Page last updated at 20:35 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Crane deaths caused by 'mistake'

The collapsed crane and an ambulance attending to the casualties
Mr Miles and Mr Boatman were preparing to dismantle the crane

Two workmen fell to their deaths after an unsupervised colleague mistakenly loosened the bolts of the crane they were working on, a court has heard.

Gary Miles, 37, and Steven Boatman, 45, both from Reading, Berkshire, died when the 118ft crane collapsed at a school in West Sussex on 11 February 2005.

The tower crane was being dismantled after its use in building work at Durrington High School in Worthing.

Chichester Crown Court heard a third man, Dave Smith, was also injured.

The men were employed by Eurolift (Tower Cranes) Ltd, based in Aldershot, Hampshire, which was owned by Gloucester-based WD Bennett Plant and Services Ltd.

WD Bennett had been hired to provide, erect and dismantle two cranes by Willmott Dixon Ltd, the principal contractors in the building of the special education needs school.

'Management vacuum'

The court heard that Tony Ferris, who had co-founded Eurolift in 1996, was in charge of health and safety at the site, but on the day of the accident had called in sick.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Nigel Lithman said: "In his absence there was nobody to perform the role, so it was WD Bennett who had assumed responsibility for managing the work and ought to have been doing it.

Map of the area

"As result of their failure to provide effective management there was a management vacuum."

The court heard two cranes had been in place since September 2004 for a "substantial project".

Mr Miles and Mr Boatman were preparing to dismantle the crane.

Wearing harnesses and hard hats, they climbed up to the crane's jib, 105ft from the ground, to disconnect and coil in the cables used in its pulley system.

Mr Smith's task was to begin loosening the bolts of the crane's tower, despite him being "wholly untrained" in the process and with "no clear understanding" of the risks involved, Mr Lithman said.

Once he had unfastened the bolts on one side he signalled to another workman to slew the crane around with a remote control so he could begin to loosen those on the other side.

'Like pistol shots'

This was done at speed, so to counteract the movement it was directed back again sharply. Mr Lithman said the crane could not take this counter tension.

Witnesses described hearing the sound of the "creaking and cracking of metal;" a noise "like pistol shots."

The crane fell onto the roof of the school's sports hall slowly, hitting a second, smaller crane as it went down, which also then collapsed.

Mr Miles and Mr Boatman were flung off and killed. Mr Smith was found unconscious within the wreckage of the crane with broken bones.

Other workmen who had been working on the hall minutes before were on a tea break, the court heard.

Summing up the case for the prosecution, Mr Lithman said: "This was a disaster waiting to happen."

WD Bennett denies two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The trial continues.

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