Machines at fatal Rotherham blast factory were ‘rotten’ jury told

Explosion still CCTV Sterecyle Sheffield Road Templeborough Rotherham 11/1/11
Explosion still CCTV Sterecyle Sheffield Road Templeborough Rotherham 11/1/11
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A maintenance manager at a recycling plant where a worker was killed in a blast told a jury the equipment was ‘rotting’ and agreed the operation was ‘half cock’.

Kevin Goss was giving evidence in his defence at Sheffield Crown Court where he is accused of perverting the course of justice.

The company Sterecycle denies corporate manslaughter.

Michael Whinfrey, aged 42, from Wickersley, was fatally injured in the blast on Sheffield Road, Rotherham, in January 2011, when a waste processing machine exploded.

The prosecution say the firm put ‘production before safety’ and neglected to repair vital equipment.

Asked about safety, Goss said he was banned from management meetings in 2009 because he always ‘brought up problems’.

He said: “I was taken to one side and told ‘you are no longer invited to the meetings’. They didn’t want to know at all.

“Everything was rotting or starting to rot. We had a thick manual of how things were supposed to be done but maintenance was never properly resourced.”

He agreed when prosecutor Adrian Darbishire asked: “The reality was that the whole thing went off half cock?”

Goss, aged 58, of Dixon Road, Hillsborough, denies impeding the police investigation by warning colleagues not to tell about a missing bolt on the catch of the exploding autoclave - a vessel used to break down waste using steam and pressure.

He admitted telling two colleagues to ‘be careful’ what they said to investigators but claimed it was because he wanted them to give factual information and not speculate, not because he wanted to cover his back.

Goss claimed the first he knew about the missing bolt was the day after the blast when colleague Andrew Harrison told him about it.

But Mr Harrison, Scott Hunter and a third witness told the jury they’d informed Goss about the missing bolt in the months before the blast and he’d said it didn’t matter.

Goss said: “I swore at Andrew and told him he was joking. I asked if he had reported it to me and he said he thought so.

“I asked him if he was sure and he said he wasn’t sure.

“We checked the fault log and there was no record.”

He added: “The night before we were told it was going to be a criminal investigation, so I told him if he wasn’t sure, he shouldn’t speculate.”

Goss, who said he was ‘devastated’ by the tragedy, later had a meeting with Andrew and Scott.

He admitted saying to them: ‘lads, just be careful what you say’ and telling them it could ‘affect any kind of payment’ made to Mr Whinfrey’s family.

The trial continues.