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'Flue death' builder jailed

A builder who caused the death of  a 31-year-old businessman after blocking a flue while working on his home has been jailed for three and a half years.

David Johnson, who previously traded as Merlin Building and Roofing Contractors, was found guilty in April of Gross Negligence Manslaughter and of Breaching Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974.

Following the sentencing hearing at Norwich Crown Court, Health and Safety Inspector Paul Hoskins said: 'We hope this case shows that the HSE and the Police will take action against those who work in an unsafe manner, and without regard for other's safety.

“Robert Schenker's tragic and wasteful death could and should have been avoided by Mr Johnson taking straightforward safety precautions.

“Everyone involved in this case was appalled by the poor workmanship and failure to carry out even the most basic checks to ensure the correct operation of the flue, which directly led to the fatal incident.
“It is illegal for anyone to carry out alterations that have an adverse effect on the safety of any gas installation.

“Anyone having work carried out on flues and chimneys should check that they are inspected and tested sufficiently before being used.”

Mr Johnson failed to follow basic health and safety advice while carrying out repair work at Mr Schenker's home. As a result debris fell into the flue and blocked it. This led to carbon monoxide overcoming Mr Schenker as the dangerous gas leaked into his house.  

Mr Hoskins said a carbon monoxide alarm could have alerted Mr Schenker to the danger posed by the blocked flue.

He said: “HSE strongly recommends the use of audible carbon monoxide alarms. Such an alarm may have saved Robert Schenker's life. There are many myths regarding health and safety. Carbon Monoxide is not one of them.'

He added: 'I would personally like to thank the police officers, lawyers, and others that worked diligently and professionally on this case and brought it to a proper conclusion in the court.

'Our thoughts remain with Robert's family and friends.'