Belfast Telegraph

Jobless roofer Nigel Johnston can't pay £50k fine for failings that led to death

By George Jackson

A roofing sub-contractor fined £50,000 after accepting responsibility for health and safety failings which resulted in the death of a joiner at a construction site was unable to pay the fine because he had no assets, a court heard yesterday.

Thirty-five-year-old Philip Fenwick sustained a fatal head injury when a roof truss, left dangling on a makeshift sling, swung and struck him on the back of the head at a nursing home construction site at Culmore Road in Londonderry in November 2014.

Derry Crown Court was told that although Mr Fenwick was not wearing a hard hat, even if he had been it would not have prevented the fatal injury he sustained.

The construction company working on the £1.5m contract at the private nursing home, Mid Ulster Contracts Limited of Dungannon, admitted four breaches of health and safety legislation in relation to Mr Fenwick's death.

The company's sole director Nigel Johnston, of Coolmaghry Road in Dungannon, was fined £50,000 and given 12 months to pay.

Imposing the penalty in March of last year, Judge Gemma Loughran QC said while it was not a case of corporate manslaughter, the defendant had failed in his duty in respect of the health and safety of his employees.

In court yesterday a barrister for Mr Johnston said although the tragedy involved a limited company, Mr Johnston was the sole director and trader.

He said Mr Johnston's business had collapsed following the site fatality. At the time of the tragedy the company was earning between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum, and the contract at the nursing home was the biggest job the defendant's business had ever undertaken.

The barrister said the adverse publicity following the fatality and subsequent court proceedings had contributed to the company's downfall.

He said following the tragedy Mr Johnston issued a writ of £37,000 against the main contractor for money he claimed he was owed.

However, the writ was withdrawn, but not until Mr Johnston had incurred additional legal costs of £11,000.

The barrister said the accounts for the trading year of 2017 to 2018 were still outstanding and would not be ready until October of this year.

"This is a limited company but it is not a case where he has gone to ground or he has moved assets to avoid paying a fine," the barrister told Judge Philip Babington.

"He has put himself into more legal debt by trying to pay off the fine, and the Inland Revenue say they are owned £20,000 by the sole director.

"His only asset is a 2007 Ford Transit van valued at just over £3,000, plus tools, which would give his total assets a valuation of about £4,000."

He added: "These matters, especially the building site tragedy, have weighed heavily on his mind.

"He is trying to get a job to support his family and to pay off his fine of £50,000."

Judge Babington granted the defence application to adjourn the case until October.

Belfast Telegraph

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