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Fury at failure of crane probe

The sister of the driver killed in the Canary Wharf crane collapse has attacked the Health and Safety Executive after its five-year probe failed to uncover the reasons behind the tragedy.
Caroline Clark's brother Peter fell 120 m to his death in May 2000, along with erectors Michael Whittard and Martin Burgess, when the arm of the Wolff 320 BF tower crane at the HSBC Bank building toppled during a routine jacking operation.

But the HSE said this week: 'Despite a very technical and complex investigation involving inspectors, the Metropolitan Police, lifting specialists and external experts, there is no conclusive explanation for the incident.'

All three men worked for crane hirer Hewden Stewart, which has since sold its tower crane division

to PC Harrington.

A lack of firm evidence had already led the HSE to drop plans for a manslaughter prosecution against Hewden.

Ms Clark said: 'Everybody is absolutely gutted, and I am personally disgusted with the HSE.

'To spend so long on something and then come up with nothing is not good enough. If they don't know what happened, how can they stop it happening again?'

Ms Clark and other relatives of the dead men were informed of the HSE's decision not to prosecute by lead inspector Mike Williams last week.

She added: 'Life is cheap on construction sites, because there are always people to replace them.

'When the investigation started off, there was progress at the start but then the Hatfield rail crash happened four months later and we all feel that it was put on the back burner.'

An HSE spokeswoman said: 'Counsel advised that our evidence was not good enough to get a prosecution. If we are not sure we are going to get a result, it is not in the public interest to go ahead.'

The HSE refused to comment on the cost and time of the probe, but one internal source close to the case said: 'There were three men on it for the six to eight months after the accident, although they were occasionally called off on other investigations. After 18 months there was only really one guy on it.'

The HSE's report records several 'unsatisfactory' aspects in their investigation, despite not being able to pin down the reasons behind the catastrophic failure of the climbing frame being used to lift the crane.

It found the climbing frame had not been adequately examined before use, planning of specific climbing jobs was insufficient, and there was a lack of supervision from senior management. There was also no anemometer at the crane top to register wind speed before starting a climb.

The HSE also expressed concerns over the long hours worked by the erection team, with the potential to increase fatigue and errors. Mr Whittard's crew worked a total of 166 hours in the two weeks before the accident.

A coroner's inquest in November 2003 recorded an open verdict, saying the matter was not 'fully or further explained'.

Hewden managing director Brian Sherlock said: 'We have nothing further to add to the findings except to say that whilst the matter is now closed, this was a tragic accident in which three employees died and our thoughts and sympathies lie with their families and relatives.'

by Russ Lynch

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