Page last updated at 00:33 GMT, Thursday, 5 March 2009

'I want answers over my son's death'

By Tom Warren
BBC News

Linda Whelan
Linda Whelan is a founder member of a group calling for tougher safety laws

A woman fighting for tougher health and safety laws following the death of her son has taken her campaign to London.

Craig Whelan was killed nearly seven years ago on a demolition site near Bolton, but why has there never been an inquest?

Linda Whelan cannot put into words the pain she felt one night seven years ago when she was woken to be told of her son's death.

On 23 May 2002 Craig Whelan, 23, and his steeplejack colleague Paul Wakefield, 40, were sent to demolish a chimney at Carnaud Metal Box factory in Westhoughton, Greater Manchester.

The Nottinghamshire company they worked for had won a tender to carry out the work.

It was the last job the pair would ever do.

We can't put Craig to rest because we haven't had answers
Linda Whelan

A permit had been issued for the chimney to be dismantled using hot cutting equipment. But flammable chemicals on the inside of the building caught fire while the two men, both from Nottinghamshire, were drilling.

The steel ropes holding the cradle they were standing on within the structure melted in the heat and the contractors plunged to their deaths.

It later emerged an e-mail from ICI had been sent to officials at the site warning that residue coating the inside of the chimney was dangerous.

But this was not passed on to the two contractors or their company.

Three men stood trial for manslaughter, but charges were dropped. They were eventually fined for breaching health and safety regulations.

Craig Whelan
Craig Whelan died while demolishing a chimney

It meant key evidence was never heard in open court and many questions were left unanswered, Linda Whelan, from County Durham, believes.

"We can't put Craig to rest because we haven't had answers, we still don't know the true facts.

"The inquest would have given us that and would have allowed us to ask questions which we were never allowed to do [in court].

"Craig was killed again by our justice system.

"Because there was a court case for manslaughter [the coroner] said we didn't need to have an inquest."

'Thousands of deaths'

In many instances, following criminal court proceedings, inquests are not resumed as they are not considered to be in the public interest.

Manchester West Coroner Jennifer Leeming took the decision that a full inquest should not be held in this case, after consulting the interested parties.

A spokesman from her office said a full written judgement had been provided to the families of the deceased and the firms involved outlining her reasons.

This is one of the things which spurred Mrs Whelan, 52, the boss of a homecare company, to become a founder member of Families Against Corporate Killers (Fack), which is campaigning for tougher health and safety laws.

The group wants new laws passed to make company chiefs directly accountable for health and safety failures.

"It's horrendous the number of people who are killed because of employers who don't put safety first and this is what we're fighting for.

"My son isn't the only one, there [are] thousands.

Recession fears

"I will carry on fighting in Craig's name to get this government to pass legislation. The government has decided to have an investigation into construction deaths. Hopefully things will change."

On Monday Fack members met officials involved with the Department of Work and Pensions inquiry into deaths on construction sites.

Mrs Whelan is worried the recession will make the situation worse, as employees will be frightened to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

The Health and Safety Executive, which investigated Mr Whelan and Mr Wakefield's deaths, said new laws which have come into force since 2002 had "sharpened directors' focus on their responsibilities".

A spokeswoman said: "We are aware of Fack and the work they do.

"As an independent government regulator we are not able to support individual campaigns but welcome any contribution to the debate of how to improve health and safety in the workplace and reduce the 229 deaths a year caused by work activities."



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SEE ALSO
Woman in tougher safety law fight
02 Mar 09 |  Nottinghamshire
Steeplejack death charges dropped
16 Jun 04 |  Manchester
Dead steeplejacks had 'no chance'
02 Jun 04 |  Manchester
Arrests after chimney deaths
02 Jul 02 |  England

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