Eight years after Didcot: how long do the families have to wait?

Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) statement on 8 years of the Didcot collapse investigation

28 Feb 2024| News

By Dave Price, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5253868

Eight years after the collapse of Didcot Boiler House which killed Mick Collings, Chris Huxtable, Ken Cresswell, and John Shaw on 23rd February 2016,  Families against Corporate Killers (FACK) expresses even more grave concern than we did on the 7th anniversary that  it can take this long to conclude a major multiple work-related death investigation.

Hilda Palmer facilitator of FACK said:

“After eight years of investigation by the Police, HSE and CPS under the Joint Protocol on Work-Related death, Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) is even more gravely concerned that no conclusion has been reached and not even a rough date for a decision on what charges might be brought can be provided. It looks horrifying possible that we will be saying the same thing on the 10th anniversary.  Justice delayed can be justice denied for the families and can leave current demolition workers exposed to risks.”

Experienced demolition workers, Mick Collings, Chris Huxtable, Ken Cresswell, and John Shaw were employed by Coleman’s to demolish Didcot Power station for RWE.  They were preparing a boiler house for demolition when something went terribly wrong and it collapsed upon them, burying them under tonnes of rubble.

The body of Mick Collings was found that day but Chris, Ken and John were not all found until more than six months later as the remaining structure was unsafe and had to be safely demolished before recovery could be attempted. The violence of their deaths and the agonising time taken to recover the bodies of the three men they loved – partners, husbands, fathers – has been incredibly traumatising and added considerably to the grief of all the families concerned.

FACK has supported the families of Chris Huxtable, Ken Cresswell, and John Shaw. We pay tribute to their steadfast concern to get their men out, to find out what happened, why they died, to bear witness to their lives however painful and traumatic that has been, and to try to ensure this never happens to other workers and families.

Gail Cresswell, Ken’s wife, said last year

‘I just want to say how appalled we are still are at the wait. We can’t believe it has taken seven years and still no end in sight. We still have no answers for our men who just went to work and also for all the men still working in this industry that need answers too, so no other families go through this dreadful nightmare like us”.

And today she says:

“It’s very much the same year on year, we give the police our 100% trust in hope that we get justice one day. Unfortunately as a family it’s still like we are stuck in the happenings of 2016 and I really do hope one day we get the justice and answers our Ken and his colleagues very much deserve. No one should go to work and never return home. God bless them all. “

Hilda Palmer added:

“It’s is almost unbelievable that eight years on, we are still not close to the end of the investigation or any decision whether they will be charges of Corporate Manslaughter or Gross Negligence Manslaughter, or whether the case will evert to the Health and Safety Executive and whether charges for health and safety breaches will be brought. FACK’s concern is that the families need answers to their questions, how and why their loved ones, experienced demolition workers, died; lessons need to be learned to ensure the safety of workers involved in the future demolition of hundreds of other old power stations in UK and across the world; and anyone bearing responsibility needs to be held to account. The longer this goes on the harder it is for the families, other demolition workers may be exposed to risk and the sense that real justice will be delivered diminishes.

“In Spring 2019 the families were told that an end was in sight as to a decision about whether there would be any prosecutions for Corporate Manslaughter or Gross Negligence Manslaughter or whether the primacy for the investigation would be handed to the HSE to consider any prosecutions under health and safety law. But this hope was dashed months later, and now the families feel the latest annual report does not give a real sense of progress, the exact state of the investigation, and makes clear there is no possible time frame for any decision as to conclusion and decisions on any prosecutions.

“Both FACK and the families are very well aware of the difficulties due to the uniqueness and complexity of the incident and investigation. Thousands of tonnes of rubble had to be recovered, transported, examined and analysed; plans, designs, risk assessments, systems of work and supervision had to be scrutinised; thousands of photographs and documents had to be collected and catalogued and hundreds of people interviewed. We know that ground-breaking information systems and software have been developed to manage the data, to generate animated reconstructions, and many experts had to be commissioned to report on all aspects of the demolition and collapse. We are very well aware of the enormous amount of resources that have gone into this investigation and we all appreciate the dedicated work carried out by the Thames Valley Police, TVP,  Health and Safety Executive, HSE, and Crown Prosecution Service, CPS, and the regular meetings/briefings to keep the families updated. We understand the need for confidentiality to ensure the integrity of any future prosecutions, and we share the desire for the most rigorous investigation possible.

“We commend the TVP and HSE but after eight years are entitled to ask how much longer and whether the whole process of the manner in which work-related death investigations are conducted is in fact fit for purpose? Is there sufficient urgency? Were all the required resources available from the start? And are the organisations involved cooperating as fully and urgently as needed? In other investigation jurisdictions, summaries of what happened are released as soon after the death as possible. In eight years the families have still been given little to no sense of what actually happened on that day, compare this to the public Inquiry on the Grenfell fire.

We acknowledge that there has been progress and that the last stages of the investigation are being reached, the end may be in far sight. We share the families extreme frustration that no one can say even approximately when the end point might be reached. We very much fear that it could be 10 years before this case comes anywhere near a court for Corporate Manslaughter, Gross Negligence Manslaughter or even health and safety offences. This is cold comfort and a hard burden for the families to bear”,

“So after 8 years, FACK and the families now ask the CPS, TVP the HSE and the Government: How much longer must  we wait?  What lessons can the demolition industry learn now to protect other workers? When will the families of  Mick Collings, Chris Huxtable, Ken Cresswell, and John Shaw get any justice?