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High Court rules original builder was to blame for disaster which claimed the lives of four workers Ashford widow's victory

THE WIDOW of one of four men killed in the 1995 Ashford building disaster has won £200,000 in damages after the High Court ruled that the original builder was to blame for the collapse.

The decision paves the way for relatives of the other men killed in the accident to pursue their own claims against E P Wickens & Sons, now in receivership.

And it represents a victory for Sylvia Berwick - the widow of 37-year- old carpenter Peter Berwick - who has battled for more than four years to expose who was to blame for the tragedy.

The collapse also killed the 59-year-old site manager, Ronald Martin, and labourers Mark Malloy, 24, and Richard Barnes, 21.

The building, at 47 Woodthorpe Road, Ashford, Surrey, was erected by Wickens and Co in 1970.

But 25 years later it collapsed while being developed into offices. The work was being carried out by Portsmouth-based contractor John Lay, with structural engineer R J Watkinson and Partners.

Mrs Berwick brought civil claims against all three firms. But Mr Justice Bell, sitting in the High Court, ruled that John Lay had 'no good reason to suspect there was any risk in removing panels before the insertion of stanchions'.

He concluded that Wickens was therefore 'solely responsible' for the collapse.

Wickens's case was that anyone who altered a building should not make assumptions about its condition.

After the hearing, Louise Christian, solicitor for Mrs Berwick, said the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health and Safety Executive should have acted more swiftly after the accident.

She said: 'There was never any doubt that there was gross negligence and the fact there has never been a prosecution is now something that should be taken up.'

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