A Manchester-based property developer has been jailed for eight months after the roof and part of the rear wall collapsed on one of his properties during demolition works carried out by amateurs, injuring one person.
The judge in the case said it was "nothing short of a miracle" more people were not hurt in the 2016 incident, which involved a large building on a busy road.
Manchester Crown Court heard how Riaz Ahmad hired workers with no experience in construction to demolish the property on King Street in Oldham.
After a concerned neighbouring business owner alerted Oldham council, an inspector from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the site and found almost all the internal walls and supports of the roof had been knocked out.
Alarmed, the HSE prohibited any more work and closed the road.
A day later, authorities agreed that there was no safe way of accessing the building and Oldham council obtained an order to demolish it.
Before that could happen, the roof and wall collapsed, triggering anemergency response by Greater Manchester Police and the Fire Service, during which properties were evacuated and the area was cordoned off.
Oldham council arranged for an emergency demolition of the remainder of building, which caused disruption to local businesses.
"This was a very serious case indeed," said the judge in sentencing last month, reported the HSE on 20 July.
"It was nothing short of a miracle that only one person was injured. A clear statement has to be made to those who undertake significant projects such as this, namely that health and safety legislation has to be adhered to for good reason, and those who ignore its basic tenets will receive punishment."
An HSE investigation found the collapse could have been prevented had a principal contractor been appointed and a suitable risk assessment been carried out.
Ahmad, of Dickenson Road, Manchester, was found guilty of breaching Section 2 (1) and Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 19 (1) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment for each offence (to run concurrently) and was order to pay prosecution costs of £65,000.
"The incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices," said HSE inspector David Argument. "Duty holders should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards."
The body representing council building surveyors, Local Authority Building Control (LABC), said it was glad the case was elevated to a higher court because similar cases heard in Magistrates’ courts often lead only to mild fines.
"This prosecution was well deserved and came about through cooperation between local building control, emergency services and the HSE – exactly the type of joint working envisaged by Dame Judith Hackitt in the proposed JCA," said LABC’s deputy managing director Lorna Stimpson.
"And because the HSE were involved the case could be tried at the high court with real teeth in terms of sentencing and cost recovery.
"This is something LABC have been campaigning on for years – when dangerous building work is prosecuted in Magistrate’s Courts through the building acts the Court simply do not have the powers to either punish the culprits sufficiently or recover the costs of the local authority.
"Our research has shown that Magistrates award costs that are typically 16 times less than the costs of prosecution and fine offenders just over £5,000 on average – much less than the offender usually gains by breaking the rules.Â
"In future, building standards must have power to prosecute offenders in the knowledge their costs will be recovered and the offender will receive a punishment – like in this case – that provides a real deterrent not to ignore building safety regulations."
Image: Drone footage shows collapsed roof on Riaz Ahmad’s building in Oldham