Sheffield Crown Court: Company fined £600K after boy died on building site dubbed a "potential death trap"

A construction company has been fined £600,000 after a boy became trapped and died on a building site that was dubbed a “potential death trap”.

By Jon Cooper
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 1:46 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th August 2022, 4:08 pm

Sheffield Crown Court heard on August 4 how eight-year-old Conley Thompson’s body was found trapped in an above ground construction pipe at a building site on Bank End Road, Worsbrough, Barnsley, the day after he had gone missing.

Barrister Andrew McGee, representing the Health and Safety Executive, previously told the court the HSE launched an investigation after Conley Thompson’s body was found trapped in a pipe at the Howard Civil Engineering Ltd’s Church View housing building site on July 27, 2015.

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Sheffield Crown Court: Company faces fine after trapped eight-year-old boy was f...
Pictured is Conley Thompson, who died aged eight, after his body was found trapped in a plastic pipe at the Howard Civil Engineering Ltd's building site for the Church View housing development, at Worsbrough, Barnsley, on the morning of July 27, 2015.

Howard Civil Engineering Ltd, which has no previous convictions, subsequently admitted Health and Safety Act breaches including failing to prevent unauthorised access to the site and failing to prevent people not employed by them from being exposed to risk after fencing on three sides of the site was deemed inadequate.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said: “It would have been regarded as a wonderful adventure playground by a child. It was of course nothing of the kind.

"It was a building site and was capable of being a death trap for someone with no right to be there.”

Pictured is a Google Street view image of the Church View building site, at Worsbrough, Barnsley, from October, 2014, nine months before youngster Conley Thompson's death, in July, 2015.

Mr McGee had previously told the court Conley’s head and neck became entangled with his clothing in the tight pipe and he was found deceased by an employee.

Judge Richardson found boundary failures at the site included: no fencing in some places; gaps in the fencing; objects on the outer perimeter allowing climbing access; damaged fencing; low fencing; and a reliance on boundaries from others’ property and walls.

He added Howard Civil Engineering had failed to undertake a risk assessment, provide or install fencing and had failed to mend and update fencing after previous incursions.

Judge Richardson said: “The dangers were obvious. This otherwise entirely responsible company made a mistake and it was a bad mistake that it should not have made.”

He added: "The site was obviously a death trap - in so many respects most building sites are – and that is why there needs to be a secure and effective boundary.”

Judge Richardson said it will never be known how Conley got into the tube but he had developed a habit of entering the Church View site.

He added: “He was not seen by an adult during the course of the day. That feature is a source of concern to me. An eight-year-old boy of the disposition of Conley needed a high level of supervision and it appears that was not the case on Sunday, July 26, 2015.”

Company employees recalled seeing children at the site and that there had been damage and a theft and youngsters had been chased away, according to the court.

Mr McGee previously said Conley must have descended into the pipe with both feet and he became trapped and died.

Judge Richardson said: “The whole place is a magnet to a child and a potential death trap for an adventurous child.”

The court heard there was an extensive police investigation before the matter was handed over to the HSE when it was deemed there were no suspicious circumstances involved.

Judge Richardson acknowledged the site had been challenging for Howard Engineering Ltd because of its slopes and that the company has an otherwise good safety record and implemented perimeter security improvements with new fencing and CCTV after the tragedy.

He fined Howard Engineering Ltd £600,000 and also ordered the company to pay £42,952.88 in legal costs.

Following the hearing, Michael Howard, Founder and Managing Director of Howard Civil Engineering, said: “Conley’s death was a tragic accident, and our thoughts and condolences remain with his family, who have suffered an unimaginable loss.

"We hope that the conclusion of this process can at least go some way in providing everyone affected by this tragedy with some resolution.

“In its evidence, the Health and Safety Executive highlighted the good safety record of Howard Civil Engineering and the fact that the business has not been subject to any previous convictions.

"However, we fully recognise that in this instance the perimeter fencing around our site had become damaged and inadequate over time.

“We have engaged fully with the Health and Safety Executive throughout its inquiry and in the seven years since this incident occurred have put in place several measures to ensure the perimeter integrity of all of our sites. We will continue to ensure that health and safety is at the heart of how we operate.”