Inquest opens into deaths of Rickinghall and Stanton men

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Four men died when the steel cage in which they were working collapsed, trapping them below ground level, an inquest jury was told yesterday.

The tragedy happened at Claxton Engineering in North River Road, Great Yarmouth, where a base was being constructed for a high pressure test bed for components for the offshore oil and gas industry.

The men, working for a firm of sub-contractors, died in January 2011 as they prepared the steel rod cage being built to reinforce concrete in an excavation about the length of a tennis court.

Families of the four sat in the public gallery at Norwich Coroners Court at the start of the hearing yesterday, which could last five days.

The four who died were brothers Daniel Hazelton, 30, of Church Meadow, Rickinghall, and Thomas Hazelton, 26, of Duke Street, Stanton, and friends Adam Taylor, 28, of Wheatfields, Rickinghall, and Peter Johnson, 42, of Newlands Close, Stanton.

Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Guy said a probe by the major investigation team and the Health and Safety Executive took 13 months before a file went to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in London.

A year later, the CPS ruled there would be no police prosecution for gross negligence, manslaughter or corporate manslaughter.

“I asked for a review but the result was the same,” he said, adding that he had just wanted a separate opinion.

Claxton procurement manager Mark Aylen, who acted as liaison with contractors on the £1.5 million project, said a ladder had been borrowed from his company to get in and out the excavation.

He told the inquest he had seen Thomas, one of the team from groundwork sub-contractors Hazegood, ‘squeezing’ through the steel structure.

Mr Aylen said he had been worried about the ‘lack of space within the steel structure with the men working inside’ and had raised concerns about how long it would take them to evacuate in an emergency.

He said he had asked a representative of project builders Encompass if it was necessary to do the work in this fashion and been told ‘it’s the only way’.

Outlining the incident to the jury, Senior Norfolk Coroner Jacqueline Lake said: “The steel structure collapsed trapping the four men inside.”

A pathologist found that the cause of death of all four men was traumatic asphyxia.

The hearing continues.