A Hove carpenter fell 15ft – and later died – after a plank snapped under him while he was working on the first floor of an old building in Stanmer Park.
David Clark, 55, of Dyke Road Avenue, Hove, appeared to have used the plank as a base while sawing other lengths of wood, a jury at Lewes Crown Court was told.
Mr Clark was about to put a wider and sturdier metal work platform in place over a hole when he stepped on the weakened plank. It cost him his life.
The jury is being asked to decide whether Brighton and Hove property developer Mike Holland and site foreman Grant Oakes are guilty of manslaughter – whether they were responsible for Mr Clark’s death – or whether it was a tragic accident caused by Mr Clark taking a “short cut” in his work.
Tom Kark, for the prosecution, said today (Tuesday 16 May): “The failure of Mr Holland and Mr Oakes to stop an obviously dangerous method of working was grossly negligent, especially given the red warning flag just a year before.
“Both Mr Holland and Mr Oakes are guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
“They each owed a duty of care to Mr Clark because he was working on a site that Mr Holland owned and Mr Oakes was the site foreman.
“In not dealing with the obvious risk, they were responsible for Mr Clark’s death.
“There was a criminal lack of care in an area where both defendants had been previously alerted.”
The “red warning flag” came in the form of a warning about health and safety issues at the site a year before Mr Clark’s fatal fall.
Health and safety inspector Denis Bodger served six prohibition and improvement notices on Holland’s company Cherrywood Investments, warning that someone could fall and suffer serious injuries.
After Mr Bodger’s unannounced visit Oakes went on a health and safety course, part of which focused on safety while working at height. Oakes struggled with some of the training because he is dyslexic, the court was told.
Afterwards the unsafe practices identified during the conversion of the west wing of the stable block in Stanmer Park were repeated as Mr Clark worked on the east wing, where he fell.
The plans were to refurbish the stable block and create eight self-contained homes.
Mr Kark said that Holland, 69, of King’s Road, Brighton, wilfully ignored the health and safety warning and tried to pass responsibility to others.
He was away when Mr Bodger first visited in September 2013 and again when Mr Clark fell in September 2014, four weeks before he died.
And although he regularly visited the site, Holland said that he employed others to take care of the site and what happened there.
Mr Kark said, Oakes, 46, of Portland Road, Hove, formerly of Elm Drive, Hangleton, “was incompetent to undertake the work of site foreman”.
He pointed out that Holland and Cherrywood Investments had admitted breaking health and safety law although Oakes had denied breaching the rules.
Holland agreed that voids, or holes in the newly constructed first floor, should have been boarded over and that work should have been stopped until they were.
But Mr Kark added that Holland had “put the blame for the incident squarely on David Clark … The person responsible for David Clark’s death was David Clark”.
Holland’s barrister John Cooper said that he pleaded guilty at the first instance on the basis of neglect but his plea was rejected by the prosecution.
Mr Cooper said: “Mr Holland accepts that the company, Cherrywood Investments Ltd (CIL), the principal contractor, was under his ultimate control and that he had put too much confidence in those working on site.
“He accepts that he could have done more to ensure that those who were engaged by CIL were acting competently. He could have done more.”
He said that the three prohibition notices and three improvement notices had been the subject of follow up inspections – and the inspector was satisfied that they were being complied with.
“Mr Holland didn’t observe any unsafe practices,” Mr Cooper said, and he believed that people working for him knew what they were doing.
But there was a big difference between the negligence accepted by Holland and the gross negligence of the manslaughter charge.
Mr Cooper said: “We are talking here about atrocious behaviour – something that’s exceptionally bad – not even a serious error of judgment … we are talking about something terribly bad.”
Craig Rush, for Oakes, said: “What happened to David Clark was a tragedy.
“Grant Oakes is charged with being criminally responsible for his death.
“When he left the stable block on the morning that Mr Clark fell, he believed the men (Mr Clark and his colleague Andrew Cooper) were working to sort out that open void.
“We’re not talking about an inexperienced kid on a building site. He (Mr Clark) had been working for more than 30 years at height and on roofs.
“He could have no idea that Mr Clark would throw across that void a 70 to 80 per cent sawn-through scaffolding board and walk on it.”
The jury are due to hear from a number of witnesses as the trial continues tomorrow (Wednesday 17 May) and over the coming four weeks.