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Case against gas installer thrown out of court

The Crown Prosecution Service has defended its decision to pursue a manslaughter case against a Corgi-registered installer which was later thrown out of court.

Earlier this month Christopher Jilbert, a former British Gas heating engineer, was acquitted of the manslaughter of Angela Pinkney after the CPS offered no evidence against him at the start of his trial at Oxford Crown Court.

Mr Jilbert had been charged following the death in March 2005. An inquest reported that Ms Pinkney had died from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. A verdict of misadventure was recorded.

At the time, Dr Richard Whittington, the assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire Coroner’s Court, wrote: “A family gas heating boiler was in use. The flue being misaligned collected condensation water, so causing a major obstruction.

“The air inlet was partially blocked with a collection of rawl plugs etc. and a plastic bag, and the gas valve had been altered without the manufacturer’s permission, so changing the proportion of air-gas ratio, so giving a richer mixture.

“Potentially, loss of combustion gases arose from loose screws at the top of the boiler and spaces between sections of the flue mechanically above the boiler. On many visits by gas engineers no record was made of any safety checks.”

It was claimed by the prosecution that Mr Jilbert had worked on the boiler two days before Ms Pinkney’s death. However, according to reports of the trial, Paul Reid, the barrister for the prosecution, said: “In order to bring this case against Mr Jilbert, the Crown would have to prove that when he attended he adjusted the air-gas ratio on the boiler.

“We cannot prove that Mr Jilbert adjusted the valve on the day in question. It cannot be proven that he is criminally negligent and caused the death of Miss Pinkney.”

When H&V News asked the CPS why it had agreed to take this case to court, putting enormous pressure on Mr Jilbert, when it knew it could not prove criminal negligence, a CPS spokesman said: “At the conclusion of an inquiry into the death of Angela Pinkney, Thames Valley Police (TVP) sent us a file of evidence and we decided at that time that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

“TVP submitted further evidence to the CPS in late 2007. At this stage we determined that there was now sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and authorised the police to charge Christopher Jilbert with manslaughter.

“However in September 2008, the defence team brought to our attention further evidence which undermined the prosecution case that Mr Jilbert adjusted the gas valve so as to create an air/gas ratio outside the manufacturers’ specified range, leading to the excessive output of CO which caused Angela’s death.”

The CPS spokesman added: “Therefore we agreed to offer no evidence against Mr Jilbert at trial and the judge directed the jury to acquit him.”

The spokesman said it was now a matter for the Health and Safety Executive to consider a separate prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

A British Gas spokesman said: “We have all been deeply saddened by this tragic accident, which was described as the consequence of ‘a rare, unforeseeable combination of events’ as the court threw out the case against Chis Jilbert, our former engineer.”

“Our customers’ safety has always been our foremost priority and we believe our engineering training, operating and monitoring procedures, which are subject to regular review, to be of the highest standards.

“Indeed, British Gas procedures have been adopted as the benchmark for training gas engineers across the industry.”