Directors and two firms found guilty after five workers killed by wall collapse

Two company directors have been found guilty of safety failings after five agency workers at a metal recycling site were crushed to death when a 45-tonne wall collapsed.

A seven-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court was told the men died instantly while working in an area near the wall, which was holding back 263 tonnes of metal briquettes.

Jurors were told the weight of metal, stored at a scrapyard in the Nechells area of the city, was equivalent to about six fully laden articulated lorries.

Labourers Almamo Jammeh, 45, Ousmane Diaby, 39, Bangally Dukuray, 55, Saibo Sillah, 42, and Mahamadou Jagana, 49, were pronounced dead at the scene in July 2016.

The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Birmingham-based firms Ensco 10101 and Hawkeswood Metal Recycling, as well as directors Wayne Hawkeswood and Graham Woodhouse for safety failings linked to the deaths.

Birmingham recycling plant accident
The scene at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling after the collapse (Chris Radburn/PA)

Opening the case last month, prosecutor Pascal Bates told jurors: “Mr Wayne Anthony Hawkeswood was the owner of both companies and he was the managing director of each of them.

“On July 7 2016, a gang of men were at work in the scrapyard and were given the job of clearing out a storage area.”

The court was told the men were working to clear swarf – waste from machining processes – ahead of an incoming load of scrapped aero engines.

Describing the collapse, Mr Bates told the court: “At just after 8.34 that morning, some 15 minutes after the agency workers first go to bay four, the wall between bays three and four topples over into bay four.

“It fell as a complete ‘slate’ – a 45-tonne wall has been pushed over by 263 tonnes of briquettes into the neighbouring bay.

“The wall was decidedly unsafe in its state and no-one should have been working anywhere near it.”

All those killed were originally from west Africa and held either Spanish or Portuguese passports.

Ensco 10101 had denied failing to discharge a duty to a person other than an employee in July 2016, and failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

Hawkeswood Metal Recycling had pleaded not guilty to a charge alleging that it failed in its duty to those not in its employment, and a second count relating to the safety of employees.

Managing director Hawkeswood and site operations manager Woodhouse, both of Riverside Works, Trevor Street, Nechells, each denied four charges under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, including allegations that an “offence was committed with your consent or connivance or was attributable to your neglect”.

The court heard that Woodhouse, 55, was working on July 7 2016, while 52-year-old Hawkeswood was on the first day of a foreign holiday.

Speaking after the defendants were convicted on all charges by a jury on Friday, Amy Kalay, a principal inspector for the Health and Safety Executive. said: “In July 2016 five workers lost their lives in a tragic incident when a wall collapsed on top of them, another worker was seriously injured.

“The investigation into this incident has been long and complex.

“These men lost their lives in the most appalling of circumstances. Their deaths should not have happened. They went to work that day to earn a living – that cost them their lives.

“We have heard over the course of the trial that their deaths could have  been prevented had the companies and individuals responsible for the site taken steps to manage health and safety risks.

“I hope the families and friends of the men who died find some comfort in today’s verdict and see that justice has now  been served.”

Defence lawyers had argued that neither of the directors were aware of any problems to alert them to potential dangers posed by the “blast proof” walls.

No similar walls on sites in the UK had collapsed previously, the trial heard.

Both directors were bailed until sentencing on a date to be fixed.