Company fined £1.3m over ‘preventable’ storm debris death safety failings

A company which admitted “serious” health and safety breaches after a woman was killed by debris torn off a building roof by Storm Doris has been fined £1.3 million.

Tahnie Martin, 29, from Stafford, was struck by a wooden panel which had been torn from its “rotten” fixings on the roof of the Mander Shopping Centre in Wolverhampton in February 2017.

An inquest previously concluded a plant room on top of the roof, from which the panel was ripped away, may not have been maintained for nearly two decades.

On Tuesday, Jim and Rosie Martin, parents to only child Miss Martin, blasted the company for its failings, adding their daughter’s death was “no random accident – it was preventable”.

In a  powerful statement outside Wolverhampton Crown Court, Mrs Martin said: “We will be brutally blunt, we wanted people to be held accountable and go to prison.

“Not the company, but individuals held to account.

“In the end it was just about money.”

Storm Doris death court case
The scene where Miss Martin died (Matthew Cooper/PA)

Cushman Wakefield Debenham Tie Leung Ltd, which was the managing agent responsible for centre maintenance at the time, had already admitted breaches of health and safety rules.

At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Mrs Justice Carr said the company, which made £13.4 million in 2017, had “failed to identify” two brick structures on the plant roof altogether.

She said: “By February 23, the parts intended to secure structures to the brick were entirely rotten and corroded.

“Unable to withstand winds of up to 59mph, they were simply blown away.”

She added: “An inquest jury concluded the panel was blown away because of a lack of maintenance resulting from wet rot and corroded metal fixings.”

Mrs Justice Carr made reference to the “serious failing” of the company, also naming the then operations manager Phil Dutton, his supervisor, Andrew King, and others at the firm, in failing to identify structures on the plant room roof.

She said: “It is extremely difficult to see how Mr Dutton, Mr King and others could not have noticed existing structures on the plant room at any time between September 2012 and February 2017.”

“If the structures were not seen by them, putting it simply, no one can have been looking at the plant room roof at all,” said the judge.

Storm Doris death court case
Tahnie Martin died at the scene (Family handout/PA)

She said the mere fact of that oversight highlighted the “inadequacy” of the £141 million turnover company’s health and safety procedures,

Mrs Justice Carr added: “A significant number of members of the public were put at significant risk of death or grave injury.”

She described CCTV footage showing just how many people had passed through the area before the incident, including 88 adults, three teenagers and 10 children, as “chillingly clear”.

Earlier, the judge was told Mr Dutton, whose job it was to oversee maintenance, had “assumed” the plant roof had been “flat”.

Three other surveys, conducted in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – by outside contractors, also made “no reference” to structures on its roof, a barrister for the company said.

Storm Doris death court case
Rosie Martin with her daughter Tahnie Martin (Family handout/PA)

Miss Martin was engaged to be married to fiance Shaun Lee, who was in court for the sentencing, and the couple had just moved in to their first home together.

Outside court, Mrs Martin said: “It should never have happened. She should have been safe.”

She added: “It was not just our clever, talented Tahnie that lost her life that terrible day.

“We now have no life, no future – Tahnie was our future, our world.

“We should have been planning a wedding. Instead, we had to plan a funeral.”

The firm has previously apologised to the family of Miss Martin and her work colleague, Ramal Sarpal, who was also injured by the wind-blown debris.

Mrs Martin said: “It took the chief executive of Cushman & Wakefield more than two years after Tahnie died to send us a letter of apology.

“Our message to him is do not offer to send us your sincere condolences – we don’t accept your apology.

“There is nothing you can say to us.

Parents
Rosie and Jim Martin, parents of Tahnie Martin, outside court (Richard Vernalls/PA)

“Your words are meaningless. Nothing can turn back the clock and give us our precious Tahnie back.”

A full inspection of the surrounding roof space carried out after incident found “over 50 recommendations for urgent action, which otherwise had health and safety implications”, the court heard.

Prosecutors said the firm had overseen “systemic” and “serious” failings, though the company said at the time it believed it had “robust” maintenance procedures in place.

Cushman & Wakefield chief executive, Colin Wilson, said: “We’re very sorry for the failings that led to the tragic death of Tahnie Martin in February 2017, and pass on our sincerest condolences.”

He added the company, which manages more than 650 other buildings, had “learned lessons” and changed its inspection regime since the incident.

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