Worker crushed to death in ‘long-predicted’ church collapse, hears court

Former church in Splott, Cardiff, 2017
Former church in Splott, Cardiff, 2017

Jeff Plevey, 56, from Cardiff, died when the derelict Citadel Church in Splott, Cardiff, fell down as he worked on it on July 18, 2017.

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A scaffolder was crushed to death in a “long-predicted” church collapse, a court has been told.

Jeff Plevey, 56, from Cardiff, died when the derelict Citadel Church in Splott, Cardiff, fell down as he worked on it on July 18, 2017.

His body was recovered from the rubble, prosecutors told a jury in Swansea during the trial of several men and companies charged with offences relating to their role in the incident.

Keith Young, 72, from Llandough, and Stewart Swain, 53, from Whitchurch in Cardiff, are accused of gross negligence manslaughter.

Swain is the director of Swain Scaffolding Limited while Young is the director of Young Contractors, the demolition firm involved in the work.

Lead prosecutor Andrew Langdon QC told the jury of nine women and three men how at around 2.45pm railway workers on the nearby Splott Bridge heard a “loud crack” and, “a bang, like a small explosion”.

From the church building site they heard men shouting “run”, and telling someone to “jump” before scaffolding around the church collapsed with another “huge bang”.

The railway workers hurried across to find those who had escaped looking “distressed” and repeatedly saying “Jeff is inside”.

The scaffolding Mr Plevey had been standing on had “disintegrated”, Mr Langdon said, and “looked like liquorice, having been burned to nothing under the weight of what had crushed it”.

“Jeff Plevey, 56 years old, was eventually discovered among the wreckage. He had been crushed to death,” Mr Langdon said.

“This case is about the collapse of that church wall. Could it have been predicted? If so, why were three men working on scaffolding that abutted it?”

Both men deny the charges which were brought after a joint investigation by South Wales Police and the Health and Safety Executive.

Mark Gulley, from Penarth, director of Amos Projects Limited, who had owned the Citadel since 2006, and Richard Lyons, from Bristol, a partner of Optima Scaffold Design Solutions Ltd are also on trial for health and safety offences.

The church on Splott Road was built in 1892 and was mainly used by the Salvation Army until it became vacant around 20 years ago and fell into disrepair.

Mr Gulley had intended to refurbish the property into flats but later decided to demolish it and sell the site to developers.

Network Rail commissioned a survey into the building’s condition due to its closeness to Splott Bridge – which was undergoing works as part of the electrification of the railway between Cardiff and London. The report found the church to be in a “poor” state, and said the rear wall was “in danger of imminent collapse”.

The report was sent to Mr Gulley in the summer of 2016 and he shared it with all of the contractors hired to carry out the demolition, but not with Mr Swain, who was the director of the scaffolding company.

Despite the report’s warning and the “obvious” danger posed by the rear wall, the prosecution say contractors failed to carry out sufficient works to stabilise it.

Scaffolding erected around the building was then tied to the wall, making any collapse liable to take the scaffolding with it.

Mr Plevey and two other workers had been told to dismantle the scaffolding in preparation for the wall demolition when the collapse happened.

Mr Langdon said: “It was the long-predicted collapse of that unstable wall. Unsupported and dangerous as it had been throughout, it had become even more dangerous since the demolition of the church had begun.”

The prosecution claimed no one had taken responsibility of the project as a whole, describing the management of the site as “dysfunctional”.

The court was also told that had building regulations been followed “this fatality could not have occurred”.

Two other men, Phil Thomas, from Cardiff, who was Young’s health and safety advisor from South Wales Safety Consultancy Ltd, and Richard Dean, of Abertillery, from NJP Consultant Engineers Ltd, have already pleaded guilty to health and safety offences.

The trial before Mrs Justice Jefford is expected to take up to 10 weeks at the Swansea Civic Centre, one of the Nightingale courts set up to ease the backlog of cases worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.