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Builder’s work on chimney put elderly couple at risk

A roofing contractor has been given a suspended prison sentence after an elderly couple was exposed to deadly fumes when his work on a chimney stack caused a blockage above a gas fire.

John Stanley, 47, of Hitchin Road, Luton, had been hired to sort out a water leak between a double chimney stack and roof tiles by householders at a property on Black Swan Lane, Luton in August 2011.

However, his team’s repair work blocked the chimney above the gas fire, leading to a potentially dangerous leak of combustion fumes within the property’s loft space.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive, which prosecuted Mr Stanley at Luton Magistrates’ Court.

Magistrates heard that employees of Mr Stanley had dismantled the old double chimney to just below roof tile level, made some repairs to roof timbers and felt, then built a single chimney stack back up.

What they failed to do was check the flue for the gas fire in the property’s back living room was still in full working order. It later emerged that it was this chimney that was blocked by the firm when the stack was rebuilt instead of the chimney of the disused and boarded-up fireplace in the property’s front living room.

The householders discovered this in November 2012 when they called a Gas Safe registered engineer to examine the gas fire.

A subsequent investigation by the HSE found that the gas fire had been used for over a year with all the fumes going into the loft, over their bedroom, instead of through the flue and chimney – leaving them at serious risk over an extended period of time.

Mr Stanley, trading as King Roofing and Durable Plastics, pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

He was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years, and ordered to pay £500 compensation to the couple he put at risk.

Speaking after the hearing, investigating HSE inspector Robert Meardon said: “John Stanley’s sub-standard work created an on-going breach and a prolonged risk to the safety of a vulnerable and elderly couple. It cost them a huge amount of unnecessary anxiety and a considerable amount of money to rectify – on top of their savings they had used to pay Mr Stanley for the work.

“This incident could have resulted in fatalities as gas fire fumes can contain poisonous carbon monoxide, which can kill. It is vital that building contractors are aware of the risks they create and comply with the laws in place to control the risks.”

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