Two ‘arrogant and greedy’ property developers were each jailed for 12 months after a three-storey building collapsed trapping three people in the rubble.
A doctor’s wife and a student were plunged from the living rooms of their flats into the basement below when their floors fell in and a workman was buried after a mini-excavator struck a load-bearing column.
The three victims received hospital treatment for cuts and bruises, 20 students were left homeless and one of Sheffield’s main arterial roads was closed for a day.
Most of the students who lived in flats above the development on Broad Lane, Brook Hill were luckily out for the day and missed the catastrophe.
Jailing brothers Naveed and Rizwan Hussain, Judge Michael Murphy told them: “It was only by the grace of God or good fortune that people were not seriously injured or killed.
“If a member of the public had been passing by they would have said “How on earth was no-one killed in that? There was potential for a complete disaster. It was caused by your arrogance and greed.”
Officers from the Health and Safety Executive spent two years and £150,000 in investigating the collapse and bringing the defendants to justice for what was called a ‘flagrant disregard’ of Health and Safety At Work regulations.
Sheffield Crown Court heard that neither city landlord Naveed, 33, of Pitsmoor Road, or Rizwan, 39, of Rutland Road, had any building experience, qualifications or planning permission for the structural works they were carrying out.
Rizwan, who managed the Butlers Express shop and Naveed, the landlord of the flats above the block of five properties were hoping to extend and reopen a former Indian restaurant on the site.
Nigel Lawrence, prosecuting, said most of the flats above the retail premises were occupied by Sheffield University students along with a doctor and his wife.
A builder and a structural engineer were consulted over plans to lower the floor level and make the restaurant open-plan but the brothers then dispensed with their services.
Although a planning application was submitted, permission had not been granted by the city council when construction work on the restaurant started about four weeks before the collapse on the afternoon of Saturday, March 23, 2013.
The student tenants complained about cracks in their walls and noise from drilling and machinery but Rizwan told them the restaurant would be open within four months and he would offer them jobs there.
Naveed brought in an excavator and began removing rubble with the help of an odd-job man while Rizwan instructed other workmen. Pillars and internal walls were removed and Naveed was seen ‘digging out the floor of the basement as if lowering it’.
As the work progressed, the doctor confronted Naveed in the basement and was shocked to see the underside of the laminate floor in his flat above supported only by steel beams with large areas of wall removed.
“He asked Naveed if he and his wife should vacate the flat but Naveed assured him this was not necessary,” said Mr Lawrence.
A week later student Kishore Chandrasekaran was in his flat when he heard a loud drilling noise and a wall and the floor collapsed plummeting him down onto a pile of rubble in the basement.
He was trapped by his right leg but a table which fell on top of him protected him from falling debris. It was half an hour before he managed to struggle free.
Doctor’s wife Khushboo Shah was sat on the sofa in her lounge. “She heard a noise like hailstones and the floor beneath her fell away and she fell to the basement together with a section of the building,” said Mr Lawrence.
She fell on the rubble and was covered in dust as well as being struck by falling pieces of wood.
Both the first and second floors of the buildings collapsed and Naveed himself freed the handyman, known only as Mr Raja, from the rubble.
Naveed was later seen trying to dig out the excavator which was buried. The students lost their passports and laptops and even their deposits on the flats were not returned.
The part-ruined buildings were demolished by Sheffield City Council on safety grounds - all at a cost to the public purse and the closure of Brook Hill.
“Essentially the guts had been ripped out of the ground floor and the basement and this weakened the structural integrity of the whole property,” said Mr Lawrence.
An independent structural engineer called in to examine the mess said the work was “inherently dangerous and a serious accident was foreseeable.”
Prohibition notices were served to cease the works until an assessment had been carried out but a fortnight later a scaffold had been erected on the rubble at a gable end.
When interviewed Rizwan claimed there was no work going on underneath the restaurant and Naveed said he had hired the digger to clear snow and did nothing to cause the buildings to collapse.
“It was a miracle that nobody was either killed or seriously injured,” said Mr Lawrence. “It was pure good luck that most of the tenants were out of their homes and no member of the public was nearby.”
David Webster for Naveed, a father-of-four who was convicted last year of unlawfully evicting a tenant, said the work was not “wholly cavalier” from the outset but a measure of cost-cutting overtook prudence.
“The work was done with a highly reckless disregard not only for the safety of others but to my client himself,” he said. “If there was anybody at the greatest risk it was the one who was in the basement.
“This was hamfisted, clueless, directionless and haphazard rather than calculated maliciousness in bringing down a building. His folly was to think he could turn his hand to this major project without any relevant training or experience.”
James Horne, for Rizwan, said his involvement was confined to running the shop in the buildings owned by his father Sabir Hussain.
He had no financial interest in the flats and the intention was for the work to be done properly. He tried to secure the gable end afterwards so the shop could eventually be re-opened safely.
The court heard the father-of-seven had taken out a £488,000 bridging loan on the restaurant project guaranteed by properties belonging to his brother and was currently working as a chef.
Naveed and Rizwan both admitted two offences contravening HSE regulations in failing to ensure themselves and their employees were not exposed to risk and failing to take steps to prevent danger to another person. Rizwan also admitted breaching a prohibition notice.
As well as being jailed, Naveed was fined £40,000 and Rizwan was given a £42,000 fine. Naveed was ordered to pay £60,000 costs and Rizwan £40,000 costs.
Judge Murphy told the brothers that their breaches of the regulations were ‘blatant and financially motivated’. He said: “People were terrified and there was inconvenience to untold numbers of people in Sheffield. The potential for disaster was staring everyone in the face apart from you.”