Builders jailed over roofer’s fatal fall

Posted On 07 Jun 2022 at 6:55 pm
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Steve Wenham, left, and John Spiller

Two builders whose shoddy health and safety measures led to the death of a roofer have been jailed.

Graham Tester, 60, died after he lost his balance carrying a bolt of felt up an unsecured ladder and fell 18ft to the ground.

Last month, site manager Steve Wenham, 47, was found guilty of his manslaughter and of health and safety breaches across the site after a Brighton Crown Court trial in April. He was jailed for five years.

Graham Tester

Tester’s boss John Spiller, who was not on site when Mr Tester fell, was acquitted of manslaughter but found guilty of health and safety breaches. He was given a 15 month prison sentence.

Sentencing today at Lewes Crown Court, Justice Mark Wall said: “There was no safe means of their accessing the roof on which they were to work. Neither was there a safe way for them to transport up to the roof the rolls of felt they were to lay.

“They set up a ladder by the side of the building and secured it by doing no more than banging in two nails.

“They then used the ladder as a means of access for themselves and to carry rolls of felt weighing up to 40kg onto the roof on their shoulders.

“Once on the roof there were no safety barriers in place even though their work involved them working right up to the edge of the roof.

“While carrying a roll of felt from the ground to the roof Mr Tester overbalanced and fell to his death.”

He told Wenham: “Proper protection could easily have been provided and the job delayed for a short while to enable it to be put in place.

“It was in your gift to have taken such a decision but rather than delay, you decided to press on with the work.

“That decision resulted in the death of Mr Tester.”

He told Spiller: “You visited the site later that day. You went onto the roof using the dangerous ladder they had erected. You saw your men working on the roof when there was no scaffolding or protective edging place.

“You said nothing to them at the time despite the fact that you accepted at trial that it was your duty to stop them working until the situation was rectified.

“You must or should have realised that they were using the ladder both to gain access to the roof and to carry heavy materials onto it.

“It was part of your duty to check the adequacy of the access routes for themselves and their materials they were using.”

Graham Tester with a snake on his 60th birthday, just days before the fall

In a victim impact statement read out in court, Mr Tester’s daughter Sally-Ann said she and her siblings Donia and Ben had “lost everything” in the three years since his death.

She said: “Knowing he never got to meet his two youngest grandchildren – he loved seeing them all and tried to give them advice he hadn’t given to us as kids.

“He was a real people pleaser, to everyone, not just us.

“In the week before he died, we had an amazing summer’s day at the Lido with his girlfriend.

“His eyes lit up watching his grandchildren swimming and buying them ice creams.

“I can’t believe how much life can change in such a small amount of time.

“We still can’t get our heads around him going to work and not coming back.

“He used to tell my mum this job is going to kill me one day, and it did.”

Speaking outside court after the verdict, she added: “I feel bad for everybody. They feel bad for what they have done.

“But it’s a relief that it’s over and they’re paying for it, in a way. There’s some justice there and it might help other people.”

Defending Wenham, David Whittaker highlighted the many references from people he had previously worked with who praised his usually high working standards.

He said: “His conduct that morning was an aberration – it was a departure from his normal working behaviour.

“That aberration led to the existence of a dangerous site which was only likely to have existed for a small amount of time as scaffolders were on site that Friday morning to begin their work.”

He also said that although Wenham had seemed emotionless during the trial, he had in fact been deeply affected by Mr Tester’s death.

Defending Spiller, James Buchanan said: “He offers to the family and friends of Mr Tester his sincere apologies . . . he has genuine regret for the part he played in the death of his friend.”

The Lansdowne Place Hotel site in July 2018. Mr Tester fell from a building behind the main hotel. Image taken from Google Streetview

The fall happened in July 2018 as the Lansdowne Place Hotel was being converted into flats in July 2018.

Spiller, 51, a director of Southern Asphalt, had visited the site with Wenham to inspect the roof, when there had been no scaffolding or edge guards.

When he sent Mr Tester and another roofer, Gavin Hills, to work there, he did not check whether they had been installed.

Wenham, 47, a director of Total Contractors, put pressure on Spiller to get the work done on the Friday, possibly because heavy storms were forecast over the weekend.