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Two bodies removed from site of wall collapse that killed five foreign workers

Published 07/07/2016

The bodies of two of five foreign workers crushed to death in a wall collapse at a metal recycling plant have been recovered.

Their remains were taken from the scene by private ambulance on Thursday night, after a day of painstaking work by emergency crews to retrieve the men from underneath tons of metal and concrete rubble.

Three other victims remain at the scene of the tragedy and are due to be recovered on Friday morning, according to police.

The dead are all originally from Gambia, and some are believed to be Spanish nationals, who emergency services said were working when a 15ft (4.5m) concrete bay wall collapsed on them.

Blocks weighing about one-and-a-half tons each came down, along with tons of scrap metal being stored in an outside yard at the vast recycling site in a heavily industrialised part of Birmingham.

All five workers were pronounced dead at the scene following the incident at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in the Nechells area of the city at about 8.40am.

The victims have been named locally as Saibo Saillah, aged 42, Ousman Jabbie, Mohammed Jangana, as well as Alimamo Jammeh and Bangaly Dukureh, who were both from Aston, in Birmingham.

All the men were married with young families; Mr Saillah had three-year-old twins, and Mr Jangana had a baby.

Friends of Mr Jammeh also revealed his wife and children were due to arrive in the UK on Sunday and had not yet been told of the tragedy.

Members of the community said they were hard workers on minimum wage who had been employed through a recruitment agency.

Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken of his shock at the tragedy, and said: "My thoughts are with the families of those involved."

Prayers have been said at local mosques while the president of the city's Gambian Association based in Ladywood said the community had been left "devastated" by the deaths.

Ansumana Barrow, 63, who works in Brierley Hill, West Midlands, said the association's would be meeting to make sure the bereaved families - many with young children - get whatever help they need.

A sixth man injured in the accident is currently in hospital after suffering a leg injury, although it is not thought to be life-threatening.

Friends of the wounded man said he rang them from hospital with news of the deaths.

In a briefing at the sprawling site, which is bordered by a railway line, Detective Superintendent Mark Payne, of West Midlands Police, said: "We believe the victims are foreign nationals. We believe the men are from Africa."

During a press conference at the site, Mr Payne said a joint Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and police investigation was now being carried out to establish the cause - warning that the process could take weeks.

He added one line of inquiry would be to find out whether "any issues of negligence or malpractice" may have contributed to the collapse.

Mr Payne said: "We're simply trying to recover the bodies of the men and do it in a way which will help understand exactly how that wall came to fall down.

"Clearly we are investigating together with the HSE, whether there are any issues of negligence or malpractice that have contributed to that wall falling down."

Emergency services have accounted for all staff on site, and said there was no prospect of any survivors under the many tons of rubble.

It is hoped the bodies will be recovered overnight from the "extremely challenging" scene.

Mr Payne said: "It's a wall constructed of blocks that weigh about 1.5 tons each - concrete blocks.

"That wall was supporting a body of scrap metal.

"It appears that that wall has collapsed on top of the men and then the scrap metal behind the wall has fallen on top."

He added that the men had been working at the site which employs dozens of staff at the time they were killed.

Mr Payne said the incident went rapidly from being a rescue situation to a recovery operation, which was "likely to take the rest of the day".

The industrial accident left rescue crews facing a "significant tonnage" of concrete and metal, which partially trapped the sixth victim before he managed to escape from the rubble.

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said it became apparent that on arrival nothing could be done to save the five other victims.

The injured man was later taken to hospital by air ambulance.

West Midlands Fire Service assistant chief fire officer Gary Taylor said: "Once the police have finished their initial examination of the scene, our absolute priority will be to ensure that the bodies of those who have lost their lives are recovered in the most timely and safe way possible, and with the utmost dignity and respect."

A spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Executive said: "The HSE is aware and supporting the police in its investigations into the incident."

Mr Payne, addressing members of the public at the scene, said two of the bodies would be recovered later, while the remains of the other victims would be removed on Friday morning.

He said: "I've been explaining the painstaking process we're going through and why it's taking so long - we've clearly still got some risk."

Mr Payne added: "It's a difficult and complex process, we've had to move a huge amount of metal and concrete in order to access some of the deceased men. That process is still on-going.

"We have been able, to this point, to be able to release the bodies of two of the men and we're going to now remove them from the scene in the fullness of time.

"Then we're going to stop the operation tonight when the light fades and then we're going to recommence first thing in the morning and hopefully recover the bodies of all the men and get them to a safe and secure location where they can be properly examined and treated with dignity."

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