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Widow of SCS employee killed on site says life has changed 'irreversibly'

Company - and site foreman - sentenced at Douglas Courthouse today

The wife of a man who was killed when the scaffolding he was working on collapsed has told a court her life has been changed ‘irreversibly’.

Today (28 February) the foreman of the site Gary Skelding was working on in 2020 was handed a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of failings which led to his death.

Stephen Phillips, of Kitterland Lane in Port Erin, was sentenced at Douglas Courthouse alongside his employer at the time SCS.

Last year the 37-year-old was acquitted of the manslaughter of his colleague following a trial – you can find out more HERE.

However Phillips was found guilty of failing to take reasonable care of the health of safety of himself, and others, on 4 August 2020 at King William’s College.

On that day Mr Skelding, who was 56-years-old, was killed when the six-metre, non-loadbearing, scaffolding rig - which the men were working on - collapsed; it has been overloaded with fire board plasterboard.

"The risk would have been evident to any competent individual." - Deemster Sandeep Kainth

Today the court heard Phillips, who had worked for SCS for 19 years, had no training in using loadbearing scaffolding and limited experience of external scaffolding.

The structure was supposed to be ‘exit only’ and was designed to hold a chute used to dispose of waste material from a classroom the company was working on.

Plasterboard was supposed to be delivered to the classroom via a telehandler.

However the court was told Phillips had made a ‘number of failings’ on the day, including departing from the agreed method of work, in windy weather conditions described as ‘atrocious’.

He also failed to carry out a risk assessment and had removed the handrail - something which Deemster Sandeep Kainth said would have been 'obvious to any competent person that it was going to cause danger’.

SCS had previously admitted to failing to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees on or before the date Mr Skelding died.

The court heard the building services company had not followed industry standards on what the deemster described as the ‘regrettable day’.

Routine inspections of the scaffolding – which had been in situ for a number of weeks – had not been done.

No risk assessments had been carried out and almost all employees working on the site had out-of-date training – some which had lapsed by years.

“Mr Phillips was left to run the site without appropriate training and support,” Deemster Kainth added.

"I have had everything stable taken away from me." - Alison Skelding

Addressing the court Mr Skelding’s wife said she felt 'robbed' by what had happened.

“No one expects their husband to go to work in the morning and not come home again,” she said.

“Was he scared? Was he in pain? Did he know he was going to die?

“Those thoughts never leave me. Gaz didn’t deserve this and neither did I,” she added.

Telling the court she now felt ‘lost’ she revealed that she’d sold her home on the Island, left a job she loved and moved away as a result adding: “My whole life has been turned upside down.

“I had everything taken away from me. I feel robbed of the life I had and could have had.”

Phillips’ advocate told the court his client had ‘not stopped’ reflecting on the events of the day saying the father-of-two was now working as a mechanic to ‘keep himself busy’.

He added that the impact of the incident, whilst ‘incomparable to that felt by Mr Skelding’s family, had ‘weighed heavily on all’.

SCS' advocate told the court the incident had occurred in ‘something of a blind spot’ for the company adding: “This company does treat health and safety issues with utmost importance.”

"No sentence I impose, as Mrs Skelding has quite properly accepted, is going to turn the clock back." - Deemster Kainth

Passing sentence Deemster Kainth told both parties: “You have to live with the fact that – on your watch – a death occurred; that’s going to be difficult.

“This is a very difficult sentencing exercise,” he added: “It doesn’t matter what sentence is imposed – no one can rewind the clock.”

Phillips was handed a 12-month custodial sentence, suspended for one year, and SCS was fined £200,000; the company must also pay prosecution costs of £125.

Describing the incident as a ‘tragic accident’ Deemster Kainth added: “The accident ended Mr Skelding’s life and brought grief and misery to the lives of his family and friends.”

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