Company director ‘sickened’ by fatal church collapse but denies wrongdoing

·3-min read

A director of a company that owned a church which collapsed killing a scaffolder said he felt “sickened” by the incident but denied cutting corners to save money.

Jeff Plevey, 56, from Cardiff, died when the Citadel Church in Splott, on which he was working on July 18 2017, fell down and crushed him.

Mark Gulley, of Amos Projects Limited, is one of four men on trial at Swansea Crown Court in relation to Mr Plevey’s death.

He and Richard Lyons, from Bristol, a partner of Optima Scaffold Design Solutions, are charged with health and safety offences.

Keith Young, 72, director of Young Contractors, the firm hired to carry out the demolition, and Stewart Swain, 54, director of Swain Scaffolding, are accused of gross negligence manslaughter.

Gulley told the court on Thursday how he became a director of Amos Projects Limited in 2012 when the previous director, Stephen Addicott, who he described as his “best friend”, died.

The 59-year-old, who had worked for Mr Addicott for a number of years, said he was brought in to help sell a number of buildings owned by the company on behalf of Mr Addicott’s widow Gillian who became the new owner.

One of the properties was the Citadel, which had been bought in 2006 by Mr Addicott and his partner at the time, Andrew Morris, who planned to redevelop it into flats, but later decided instead to demolish the derelict church and sell the site.

Gulley said that after accepting an offer in 2013 from a Mr Karim to buy the site on condition the church was flattened, he set about hiring contractors.

He told the jury that while he remained at the centre of email chains and other correspondence between the contractors, he was not involved in the detailed planning of the demolition or scaffolding design because he “wasn’t qualified”, and would only “forward emails on” to the relevant parties.

The hearing was told that when asked by police officers investigating the incident why he had not left the contractors to it once appointed as is normally the case, Gulley said: “Don’t you think I wish I had?”

A survey commissioned into the building’s condition by Network Rail, who were carrying out works on the nearby Splott Bridge as part of the electrification of the railway between Cardiff and London, noted the rear wall was “in danger of imminent collapse”.

Gulley received the report in the summer of 2016 and shared it with all of the contractors appointed, except for Swain.

The prosecution say that despite knowing of the dangers posed by the wall sufficient works were not carried out to stabilise it, and when scaffolding was erected it was tied to the wall.

Three workers had been on the scaffolding when the collapse happened. Two escaped but Mr Plevey was killed.

Asked by his defence counsel David Elias QC if he had ever tried to save money or cut corners during the project, Gulley said: “No.”

The defendant said he was told about the collapse by Swain who rang him “in distress” and he went straight away to the site.

Mr Elias asked: “How did you feel when you got there?”

Gulley replied: “Sickened.”

Young and Swain have chosen not to give evidence in person but a number of character references written by Swain’s family and friends were read to the court.

The letters focused on his caring nature in particular towards his two children, grandchildren, and his wife Jacquie who he cares for full-time after she suffered from a rare type of breast cancer and became permanently disabled.

A statement from Swain’s daughter Emily said: “The tragic accident that killed Jeff has nearly destroyed my dad. He was one of his oldest friends.”

The 10-week trial before Mrs Justice Jefford is in its sixth week but was delayed last week after one of the defendants tested positive for Covid-19.

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