Robert Wynn Marsh, the 64 year old sole director and shareholder of RM Developments (2005) Limited, was prosecuted for two offences after he caused the company to supply severely weathered roofing sheets described by the sentencing Judge as “wholly and obviously unsuitable”.
Having already supplied farmers through his company the parts except the roof for a prefabricated, 30 metre by 19 metre (100’ by 60’) barn at a farm in Frankley, Worcestershire, Marsh further agreed to supply (through his company) the necessary roofing sheets for a further £4,000. Instead of sourcing cement fibre sheets in good condition, he arranged to have old, fragile, asbestos-ridden sheets collected from a demolition site for free (other than a £250 haulier’s charge). He stood to make a clear profit of £3,750 and had taken an interim payment which left him over £1,400 in profit by the time the consequences of his behaviour were felt.
Tony Podmore, the 55 year old roofer leading a gang of three who then had to fit these sheets as a roof, fell through a sheet and dropped over 6 metres (20’) to the concrete floor (no nets or other suitable fall arrest systems were being used, as would have been apparent to visitors to the site like Marsh), sustaining serious injuries from which he died after 12 days in hospital and despite several operations to try to save him.
Upon hearing of the injury to Mr. Podmore, Marsh attempted to persuade one of the farmers to accept responsibility for the supply of the sheets and, having failed, went on to ask another farmer and each of Mr. Podmore’s two co-workers to conceal the remaining sheets from anyone who might come to investigate, telling one, “We’ll all take the fall for this”. Marsh then approached Mr. Podmore’s daughter at the hospital and tried to persuade her that her father had fallen from the side of the roof, rather than through the sheets he had supplied. A few days later, he tried to persuade the Podmore family that there was no need to report the matter to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Marsh was well aware of HSE’s likely interest. In 2004 Rawcrafter Limited, a company of which Marsh was then sole director and shareholder, had been convicted (upon HSE’s prosecution) of safety failures in 2003 relating to the fall through a fragile roof of a worker, Adam Waddington.
Following Mr. Podmore’s death, the HSE were informed and did investigate. Throughout, including on oath at the Coroner’s inquest, Marsh insisted that he did not make a commercial supply of the sheets, his only role being to telephone to arrange haulage as a favour to the farmers. In addition, having dissolved Rawcrafter Limited and moved on to RM Developments (2005) Limited after the 2004 conviction, not six months after Mr. Podmore’s fall, Marsh made that second company dormant and moved on to a third, RM Structural Steel Supplies Limited, a feature the Prosecution described as ‘phoenixism’.
The case was due to come to trial, prosecuted by Pascal Bates at Worcester Crown Court for up to 8 days, starting on 2 June 2014. When re-arraigned that morning, Marsh pleaded guilty to both counts – of consenting or conniving in his company’s offence of failing to conduct its undertaking in such a way that, so far as reasonably practicable, non-employees were not exposed to the risks of asbestos and falls from height and of placing on the market roof sheets containing white (chrysotile) asbestos.
After a three day sentencing hearing, during which Marsh came to admit all his attempts to obstruct justice after the accident and that this was a commercial supply by him for a profit, HHJ Cullum yesterday (4 June 2014) sentenced Marsh to 12 months’ immediate imprisonment concurrent on each count, disqualified him from acting as a company director for 6 years and ordered him to pay £10,000 towards the Prosecution’s costs, criticising Marsh for “wholly reprehensible” behaviour in his “selfish self-interest”. The court heard submissions as to the effect of the Sentencing Council Guidelines on sentencing Environmental Offences (due to come formally into force on 1 July 2014) and as to how it might be tailored from the offences with maximum penalties of 5 years’ imprisonment (which it directly addresses) to offences such as Marsh’s which carry only 2 year maxima and one of which was a health and safety, rather than environmental safety, offence.
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