Tears as fumes tragedy fitter is jailed after deaths of Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson
Parents robbed of their teenage sons as a result of incompetent work carried out on a gas heating system wept as the man responsible was jailed for two years.
Gas fitter George Brown was told a litany of shoddy workmanship by his firm resulted in the deaths of the two young friends by carbon monoxide poisoning.
And a judge warned the lives of former clients of Brown (52), from Ballygawley Road, Aghadowey, could be at risk from appliances he installed.
They were urged to have their homes inspected immediately to prevent further tragedies.
Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson – both 18 – were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes at a Castlerock apartment on August 3, 2010.
The victims had been staying at an apartment owned by a relative and were celebrating the end of their A-Levels.
They were found dead by their parents, who raced to the seaside village when they were unable to contact the teenagers.
Brown was yesterday sent to prison for two years for the manslaughter of the teenagers.
He was ordered to spend a further two years on licence and was fined £19,000 for a series of health and safety breaches.
Mr Justice Weir said the deaths had resulted from "sheer laziness" and an "alarming litany of shoddy workmanship". He called the horrific incident "wholly tragic and avoidable".
"Your cavalier attitude is impossible to comprehend and entirely reprehensible," Mr Justice Weir told Brown.
He said the work carried out on the heating system had resulted in "wholly predictable fatal consequences".
Brown, from Ballygawley Road, Aghadowey, had consistently contested all 21 charges against him.
However, at Laganside Court in January he pleaded guilty to all, including the manslaughter of the former Glengormley High School prefects.
While he made the case that he did not personally install the boiler and flue, he accepted the supply and installation of the heating system was his responsibility.
Brown ran a gas shop in Coleraine and had been asked to investigate a problem at the apartment before the tragedy.
He recommended replacing the boiler and flue and converting the burner from natural gas to liquefied petroleum gas.
Experts concluded that part of the flue used to carry emissions from the boiler to the outside through a void in the apartment ceiling had separated because sections were not secured properly at a right-angle bend.
The judge yesterday said the pleas had spared the families the harrowing experience of a trial.
The parents of both teens declined to comment yesterday.
As they slept, deadly gas silently poured out of a pipe. Two of the boys never woke up
Having just watched the sun rise together, three young friends lay down for a rest, completely unaware that just feet above them a pipe was silently leaking a deadly gas.
The breathtaking incompetence of the work carried out on the apartment's heating system months previously was starkly highlighted by a picture released yesterday of the pipework installed by George Brown's firm.
Aaron Davidson and Neil McFerran had known each other since the age of three and grew up just streets apart in Newtownabbey.
Along with another school pal, Matthew Gaw, who survived the horror, the 18-year-olds had gone away for a few days before getting their A-Level results. The weekend was a final get-together before they embarked on an exciting new stage in their lives.
But their dreams, and the lives of their families, were shattered by the silent seepage of fumes within the Castlerock apartment owned by one of their aunts.
On their last day together the three young men awoke at 4.30am. They went for a walk along the coast and sat together to watch the sun rise. A short time later they made their way back to the apartment, where they lay down for a few hours sleep.
Two of the pals would never wake up.
Matthew came round – dazed and confused – on the bathroom floor the following evening.
Having no idea how he got there he stumbled into the living room.
There he spoke to his panic-stricken father on the phone. So incoherent was the young man, his father believed he was drunk.
Matthew – who was in court yesterday – previously told how he was unable to waken his friends, desperately throwing water over one of them.
He recalled putting his head in his hands in confusion.
A short-time later both victims' parents smashed their way into the apartment.
Brown, whose gas firm had done work in the apartment, was arrested the following April.
During police interviews he attempted to apportion blame to a joiner who also did work in the property. He must have dislodged the piping, Brown insisted.
He continued to deny his role in the teens' deaths, heaping further misery onto his victims' families.
Then, surprisingly, in January the charges were again put to him days before his trial was due to begin. One word, repeated 21 times, ended the prolonged heartache: "Guilty."
During earlier court proceedings it was revealed the deadly gas leaked into the holiday apartment when the flue pipe came apart in the roof space. But had Brown's firm fixed it to a joist with four self-tapping screws, the deaths would have been avoided.
"He told police during interview that it would have taken about five minutes for those screws to be put in place," prosecuting lawyer Roseanne McCormick told Coleraine Magistrates Court, adding: "The integrity of this joint was compromised for the want of a five-minute exercise."
The court also heard he was not properly registered with Gas Safe to convert a gas boiler, and was using out-of-date sensors designed for different gas.
Experts who examined the heating system said he had not properly converted the boiler from natural gas to LPG.
It was revealed that when investigators from the Health and Safety Executive went to the scene and fired the boiler, the machines used to test carbon monoxide levels "went off the scale".
As well as overseeing the work which led to the deaths of Neil and Aaron, Brown was also sentenced for shoddy and potentially deadly work his company carried out across the north coast. There were 14 other premises in all, including homes, a restaurant and caravan park. A judge said it was fortunate no other lives were lost as a result.
Louis Burns from the Health and Safety Executive said the investigation had been one of the biggest and most complex of its kind ever carried out here.
"The tragic and untimely deaths of Neil and Aaron from carbon monoxide poisoning serve as a potent reminder of the dangers this deadly gas poses," he said.