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Narrative verdict for crane death duo, as parents weep in court

Liliana Alexa wept as the jury in the inquest into the death of her son, Michael, returned a “narrative verdict” to Westminster Coroner’s Court this afternoon.

The families of Mr Alexa, 23, and Jonathan Cloke, 34, who both died when a crane on a Barratt site in Battersea collapsed in July 2006, heard as the jury blamed procedural error and inadequate staffing at crane hire company, Falcon Cranes, for the accident which claimed their sons’ lives.

However, the verdict of unlawful killing, which the families had hoped for, had earlier been taken off the table by the coroner, Dr Shirley Radcliffe, effectively eliminating any hope of triggering a criminal investigation.

In a written statement read out to the court, the jury representative said of both men: “He died as a result of a crane collapse due to failure of the inner slew ring bolts due to overloading of the counterweight. The overloading was due top am incorrect manual being used in the erection of the crane.

“On the 25th July 2006, four inner slew ring bolts failed and all of the slew ring bolts were replaced. No investigation was undertaken as to the root cause of the bolt failure. On the 26th July 2006 the crane returned to service.

“At that time there was no adequate formalised process and procedure to allow for faults to be managed, escalated and investigated. In addition there was a vacuum of structured management in the service department.”

Over six days at the inquest, the jury were taken through the events which led to the crane collapsing on Mr Cloke, the crane driver, and Mr Alexa, an unconnected man, washing his car next to the site.

In a grilling which last almost two days, Douglas Genge, the md of Falcon Cranes, was asked by the Alexa family barrister, Rory Dunlop, why he had not taken responsibility for instigating an investigation into why the slew ring bolts had broken.

The coroner, Dr Shirley Radcliffe, later argued that an investigation may not have uncovered the underlying reason for the slew ring bolts breaking.
“It took the HSE itself a number of years and expert witness statements to discover why the bolts failed,” she said.

On the final day of the inquest the coroner gave the jury two possible outcomes, ruling out the possibility of an unlawful killing verdict. Such a ruling might have left open the possibility of criminal proceedings against Falcon Cranes employees.

Tony O’Brian secretary of the Construction Safety Campaign, said the deaths of the two men had paved the way for improvements in health and safety, including the introduction of a crane registry, but he said this decision would set the agenda back years.

“This government has already indicated that it is hostile to health and safety agenda and this is going to make it even worse,” he said.

Earlier, the CPS had confirmed it would review its decision not to pursue a criminal prosecution if an unlawful killing verdict was brought.

Mr Alexa’s father, Doru, fighting back his own tears said: “This is five years of our lives, and we are back to square one. There has been no justice.”

Julia Christian, a lawyer representing the Alexa family said she was appalled by the coroner’s decision.

She said: “The decision by the coroner not to allow the jury to consider a verdict of unlawful killing was baffling in the extreme.

“The coroner found that the managing director of Falcon Crane Hire limited, Douglas Genge, owed a duty of care to the deceased, and had breached that duty.

“However, she stated that the death of Mr Alexa, a member of the public, and Mr Cloke, a crane driver may not have been caused by the breach.

“The breach occurred when four bolts were replaced and the crane was put back into service without an investigation.

“Mr Genge was told on the phone of what had happened by Mr Julian Irving, a fitter. Mr Genge accepted in evidence that the crane should not have been put back into service until the cause of the exceptional near collapse of the crane was ascertained.

“The coroner did not refer to the actual evidence he gave about this. But instead seemed to be relying on the possibility that the crane might have been returned to service even after an investigation.

“This had not been the subject of any evidence by any witness.

“My clients will be asking our council, Rory Dunlop to advise on whether they can seek a judicial review of the order to withhold am unlawfuil killing verdict from the jury.”

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