Court fines two companies over tragic death of teenage groundworker in Boston

His mother collapsed upon hearing of her son’s death and is now ‘angry’ she did not get to say goodbye.

The area of White Bridges where the accident happened.
The area of White Bridges where the accident happened.

A judge has fined two companies £324,000 for safety breaches and given two managers suspended jail sentences after a teenage groundworker died when he was run over while working in a manhole.

Josh Disdel, 18, had been sent to clean drains on a new housing estate in Boston when he was crushed by his unknowing workmate, who was moving their van.

The hardworking teen was just 16 days into the job when he was directed to the White Bridges site with his colleague without a risk assessment or adequate training.

Josh, from Holbeach, had only taken the position to earn cash while he waited to see if his exam results were good enough to join the RAF.

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In a moving victim impact, Josh's mother, Fiona-Jane Lobley, 39, described how the family received his "higher than expected grades" in a special ceremony just two weeks after his death.

It meant Josh, who also left a "loving" girlfriend, would have been able to begin a career in the RAF in January 2019.

Two construction managers and the main site contractors were convicted of Health and Safety breaches following a trial in May.

Brent Woods, 60, a construction manager for P&R Plant Hire Ltd, who employed Josh, was sentenced to 18 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years after Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight accepted he had health difficulties and wanted to work.

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Woods must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,200 costs.

Judge Sjolin Knight said events began when Woods sent out the two untrained men on the job without a risk assessment, plan to do the work or safety equipment for the manholes.

"Neither of this young men had been trained on street work which this job entailed," Judge Sjolin Knight told Woods.

"You started off this train of events," Judge Sjolin Knight added.

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Woods' failures were aggravated when he obstructed matters by removing documents from his office on three occasions in the days after Josh's death, the judge concluded.

"You were looking after yourself," Judge Sjolin Knight told Woods.

D.Brown Ltd, who were the main contractors on the housing estate project and a medium sized company, were fined £300,000 by Judge Sjolin Knight who said there was a failure to monitor sufficiently and regularly check on contractors. They must also pay costs of £15,000 and the fine within five years.

Darrell Tripp, 60, who was site manager for D. Brown, was sentenced to eight weeks imprisonment suspended for two years after Judge Sjolin Knight accepted his culpability was lower than Woods. He must also pay £1,200 costs.

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Judge Sjolin Knight said while Tripp was well regarded and had tried to stop Josh’s workmate when he realised what was about to happen, "an eye had been taken off the ball" towards the end of the White Bridges project.

"You didn't ask [the workmate] for a risk assessment," Judge Sjolin Knight told Tripp. "In essence you waved them through."

P&R Plant Hire Ltd, who had employed Josh and are a micro-sized company, admitted failing to discharge their health and safety duty.

They were fined £24,000 and ordered to pay £2,264 costs within two years.

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Judge Sjolin Knight acknowledged any sentence would be disproportionate to the loss suffered by Mr Disdel's family, and said it was clear there was no foolish behaviour or larking about from Josh and his colleague.

Judge Sjolin Knight said the tragedy resulted from those with greater responsibility and training failing to manage them.

"This was two young men wanting to get on and do their job," Judge Sjolin Knight told the court.

Lincoln Crown Court heard how Josh had been working in a manhole on the new White Bridges housing estate in Boston when he was hit by a van being driven by his colleague on the morning of Friday, July 13, 2018.

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Craig Hassall QC, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said Josh had been picked up by a colleague and taken to White Bridges where they were tasked to lift up manhole covers on the new estate to clean the drains.

The jury heard work on three manholes was completed and Josh was lying with his body half way into a fourth manhole when their van was moved so another vehicle could use the road. An HSE report into the accident said Josh was lying with his head and torso in the manhole when the incident occurred.

As the vehicle moved forwards one of the wheels entered the top of the manhole contacting Josh. He was trapped in the collision and suffered fatal crush injuries despite being transferred to hospital in Nottingham.

The workmate had driven Josh to Pilgrim Hospital himself and accompanied him to hospital in Nottingham.

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The prosecution said procedures put in place by all of the companies had been abandoned by the time Josh carried out the job.

"The abandonment of those procedures cost Josh Disdel his life," Mr Hassall said.

Mr Hassall accepted some systems were put in place by the two companies, and described it as a "medium" culpability case for both the companies and two managers

However Mr Hassall insisted: "The harm that occurred here was the highest because Josh Disdel lost his life."

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Josh's mother described her son as a "good lad."

Fiona, who lives in Brant Broughton, said she remembered being in Lincoln on the day of the collision.

"It was a day I will never forget," she remarked." I had a bad feeling that day and I didn't know why "

She said she rushed to the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham and was initially informed there was some hope, but she then collapsed when learning Josh had died.

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"I feel angry about not being able to speak to Josh or say goodbye," Fiona revealed.

"It's so long since it happened, but I can't move on."

Fiona said that "most days she feels like it is her that is serving a prison sentence," and expressed her hope that the defendants "feel the loss I feel."

She added: "They didn't look after him. They threw him in at the deep end."

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In his statement Josh's father, Terry Disdel, said he had contacted a director at P&R Plant Hire about his concerns over the lack of training for his son, but Josh had asked him to back off.

Terry said Josh shared his love of diggers, had a loving girlfriend and should have been joining the RAF.

He described rushing to the hospital in Nottingham and only being able to kiss his son goodbye.

"Where do I start," Terry explained. "Josh was my everything.

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"We weren't just father and son. We had a special connection."

Brent Woods had denied a charge of failing to take reasonable care to ensure Josh's safety but was found guilty by a 10-2 majority verdict.

D. Brown Ltd were convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of a person other than an employee by a unanimous verdict.

Darrell Tripp was also found guilty of failing to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of others by a unanimous verdict.

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The prosecution said Josh did not receive an induction for the job he was doing on the day of the incident, but had received an induction on another D.Brown site six weeks earlier.

The court heard P&R Plant Hire had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and carried out work in the community, putting up Christmas lights.

Shauna Ritchie, mitigating for Woods, said he viewed it as a tragedy that a fit, young man came to work and didn't come home.

"He will live with that regret for the rest of his life, and it is important that Mr Disdel's family understand that," Miss Ritchie explained.

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Miss Ritchie also highlighted that there was no specific delegation of the task to Mr Woods, and said he is suffering with health difficulties and has been open with his current employers.

She argued Mr Woods removal of documents was committed out of fear, rather than a desire to obstruct investigations.

Jim Buchanan, mitigating for D.Brown, said the death of Josh was a matter of great regret to a company who had an "exemplary" record and who had donated over £50,000 to local charities.

Mr Buchanan argued the failings of D.Brown fell into lower culpability and said the company had put significant rules and plans in place prior to Josh's death.

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"Had those rules been followed we wouldn't be here," Mr Buchanan asserted.

Marc Balysz, mitigating for Mr Tripp, told the court that at the age of 60, and with five children, this was one mistake in an otherwise unblemished career.

"His overwhelming concern is that he does not receive a sentence of immediate imprisonment," Mr Balysz added.

Mr Balysz said Mr Tripp had continued to work running safe sites.

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Speaking after the sentence hearing, Josh's mother, Fiona said she felt justice had not been done.

"I haven't got justice at all for my son," she said.

"I came to the trial every day and I feel I have wasted my time.

"We heard all about the defendants health problems, and about how hard it has been for them, but what about me and Josh?"

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Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Mark Welsh said: “This was a completely avoidable incident, caused by a multitude of failures by both companies and both of the individuals who appeared in court.

“All of the defendants failed to adequately plan the work to identify the risks, failed to ensure that the individuals carrying out the work were trained and competent to do so, and failed to ensure a safe system of work was in place and followed.

“The result was the tragic loss of life of a young man who was looking forward to a bright future.”