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Didcot recovery operation criticised by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has criticised the speed of the recovery operation at Didcot Power Station after the recovery of the last of the missing workers from the site.

Speaking to Construction News, Ms Champion, who has been working with the families of the four deceased, said the industry must learn from the slow pace of the operation at Didcot.

“One of the families said [to me], ‘Sarah, it feels like we’re just a working-class family from the North so it doesn’t really matter’,” she said.

“That really stuck with me. I don’t want them to be right but it has rather felt like that.”

The fourth and final body was recovered from the Didcot Power Station site on 11 September, more than six months after the partial collapse of the boiler house.

Two of the men who were killed, John Shaw and Ken Cresswell, were from Rotherham, where Ms Champion is an MP.

Chris Huxtable, from Swansea, and Michael Collings, from Cleveland in North-east England, were also killed in the incident.

All four men were employees of demolition specialist Coleman & Company.

Ms Champion justified her criticism by saying that every time she or another MP got involved, “remarkably plans were delivered the next day or that morning”.

“You believe in a coincidence once, but you don’t believe in it a couple of times,” she said.

RWE, which led the recovery operation, pointed to its previous statement when contacted by CN, which said it had been working “12 hours a day, seven days a week” to recover the missing men.

Ms Champion also criticised the level of engagement with the victims’ families at the start of the recovery operation.

“At the beginning, it was very apparent that the families weren’t the centre of everyone’s thoughts,” she said.

“It was very much a straight construction project – what’s the best way to approach this?

“It took time before people started to realise that, if not a legal responsibility, they had a moral responsibility towards these families – just things like explaining to them what was going to happen before press-releasing it, or asking their opinion, or explaining what the options were.

“I wish that had been there automatically from the start. I think that’s something all companies have to be mindful of, because it’s not hard to make someone feel included in the process.”

Ms Champion described her “huge relief” now that all four men had been recovered but emphasised that the journey for the families was far from over.

“It’s actually just beginning,” she said. “The first stage was to get the men home. The second stage is to figure out what went wrong.

“And the third stage is to make sure this is never able to happen again, if that’s possible. The families know that will be a long drawn-out process.”

She also emphasised the need to develop new techniques and processes in the wake of what happened at Didcot.

“The good thing to come out of it is that the industry has come together and, if not developed, then utilised new advances,” she said, referring to Alford Technologies’ remote demolition of the remainder of the boiler house in July.

“I think that’s really exciting and if more things could be done in an automated way rather than sending men in to do it, that has to be a good thing.”

The Rotherham MP also praised the demolition industry’s family culture, emphasising the level of support given to the families from all of the workers involved on site at Didcot, including Brown and Mason, who took over the recovery operation from Coleman & Company in May.

“I hadn’t realised what a family the demolition industry was and how much sharing of equipment, ideas and expertise there is,” she said.

“Brown and Mason were absolutely 100 per cent committed to getting those men out because they were part of the demolition family – to know there’s that sort of comradeship within the demolition industry was a really nice thing.

“I know that the families very much felt themselves part of that broader family.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • Of course there's a responsibility to the families but the first and most important responsibility is to the personnel charged with, physically, the recovery of the bodies. There is no sense, whatsoever, putting more people at risk

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  • If it was possible to demolish the second part of the building using remotely controlled machines then surely it could all have been done that way and these deaths would have been avoided.

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