Worlingworth: Family’s search for answers continues after they’re left ‘totally unsatisfied’ with court ruling
10:09 15 February 2014
The family of a teenage workman killed on a construction site in Suffolk have vowed to continue their search for answers after a judge’s sentencing left them “totally unsatisfied”.
Matthew Skeet, 19, died when the wall of a barn he was helping to convert in Worlingworth, near Framlingham, collapsed, crushing him and his employer Kevin Ruffles, 57, in October 2010.
Those responsible for safety failings on the site where the two men died were yesterday fined a total of £60,000 and ordered to pay combined costs of a further £20,000.
Mr Justice Rabinder Singh, sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court, said the fines “cannot and do not attempt to put a value on the loss of human life”.
“Nothing which I say can provide adequate comfort to the family of Mr Ruffles or Mr Skeet,” he added.
However the Skeet family, from Woodbridge, have despaired at what they believe is the impotence of the justice system.
Although the safety failings were not directly attributed to the deaths, Linda Skeet, Matthew’s mother, said the fines were “comical”, a “failure of justice” and had tainted her son’s memory.
“My son was wiped off the face of the earth through no fault of his own and it seems as though his life was barely worth a penny,” she said.
“We’re not satisfied that justice has been done and we won’t rest until we feel that it has been.
“Matty was the innocent party in all of this and yet no one seems to have been held fully accountable for his death.”
Barry Potts, 65, a structural engineer from Freston, was fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs for his part in safety failings on the site leading up to the fatal accident.
Elliston Steady & Hawes (Building) Ltd, the site contractor, was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay a further £15,000 in costs at the hearing.
The court heard that Mr Skeet and Mr Ruffles had died when the barn’s gable wall fell on them following the excavation of a trench which undermined its foundations.
Investigators for the Health and Safety Executive had determined that there was “no rational explanation” for Potts to agree to the excavation being carried out in the method suggested by Mr Ruffles.
Judge Singh said Potts had “failed to consider the inherent dangers of the area being investigated” and held a “fundamental misunderstanding of the risks involved”.
“He fell far below the standards expected of him by the health and safety at work act,” he ruled.
Judge Singh agreed with the company’s defence that it was “entitled to rely on” Potts in maintaining the site safety.
However he said there had been a “serious breach” in safety because of its failure to ensure the correct method statement were produced.
“I accept that (the company) failed in its responsibilities to properly manage the project and put appropriate mechanisms in place and this was not simply a failure of documents being in place,” he said.