Construction firm is fined £860,000 when boy, 10, fell to his death

Construction firm is fined £860,000 for safety failures when boy, 10, got through insecure fence and climbed down open manhole then fell 20 feet to his death

  • Shea Ryan fell down the manhole in Drumchapel, Glasgow on July 16, 2020
  • RJ McLeod (Contractors) Limited was fined at a court on Friday

A construction firm has been fined £860,000 for safety failures after a 10-year-old boy fell 20 feet down a manhole and died. 

The Crown Office said Glasgow Sheriff Court was told that Shea Ryan, along with other children, accessed the RJ McLeod (Contractors) Limited site through an insecure fence in Drumchapel, Glasgow on July 16, 2020.

Shea began to climb down the manhole, situated around 200 feet from a children’s play park, after telling the other children that he wanted to. 

He slipped and fell 20 feet to the bottom, sustaining fatal injuries.

RJ McLeod (Contractors) Limited was fined at the court on Friday, having pleaded guilty earlier this week to breaching health and safety laws.

Shea Ryan fell down a manhole on a construction site in Drumchapel, Glasgow on July 16, 2020

The company was also ordered to pay a £60,000 victim surcharge.

Prosecutor Saud Ul-Hassan told Glasgow Sheriff Court: ‘Shea began to climb down the ladder where he slipped and fell.

‘From the position of the ladder, he fell to the water below.’

The other children raised the alarm and Shea’s stepdad Graham Patterson entered the manhole.

Police attended and officers found Shea lying on his back with Mr Patterson and a neighbour beside him.

Mr Ul-Hassan said: ‘Shea was seen to have severe head injuries, cold to the touch and was not breathing.’

An officer brought Shea to the surface and performed CPR before he was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital, but he could not be saved.

The cause of death was noted as ‘head injury and drowning’. 

An investigation by Police Scotland and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found insufficient measures had been taken to prevent children gaining access to the construction site.

It was revealed that the company has two previous convictions. 

The first was relating to asbestos, leading to a fine of £1,750 in 2004.

Pictured: The Drumchapel building site where the accident occurred

The second was a health and safety breach in 2006, for which it was fined £35,000.

In a statement released through legal firm Digby Brown, Shea’s mother Joanne Ferguson said: ‘I am glad RJ McLeod finally admitted guilt.

‘My son is not here and that destroys me every day.’

She added: ‘That totally avoidable accident has ruined my life and my kids’ lives. I don’t even feel human anymore at times because of the grief.

‘I just hope this makes them consider site safety everywhere – not just for RJ McLeod but for companies everywhere because the safety of these places is so important.’

She thanked the prosecution and emergency services, as well as her friends and family, and said Shea is ‘missed every second of every day’.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said a fatal accident inquiry will be held into Shea’s death.

Speaking after the sentencing, Debbie Carroll, who leads on health and safety investigations at COPFS, said: ‘The untimely death of child is particularly tragic, and our thoughts are with Shea’s family as they continue to deal with the pain they have suffered following his death.

‘His death could have been prevented had RJ McLeod (Contractors) Limited put in place suitable and sufficient measures to manage the risk of children accessing the site.

‘This prosecution should remind duty holders that a failure to manage and implement effective measures can have fatal consequences and they will be held accountable for this failure.

‘It is important that any learning, to help prevent deaths in a similar situation, is put in the public domain and there will be a fatal accident inquiry into the full circumstances of Shea’s death in due course.’

Pictured: Police attend the scene at the construction site in Drumchapel, Glasgow

HSE principal inspector Graeme McMinn said: ‘Shea should never have been able to get on to and play on that site.

‘The security measures should have taken account of the adjacent children’s playpark and the likelihood of children trying to gain access.’

He said the construction industry must do everything it can to keep children out of construction sites and ‘away from danger to prevent a tragedy such as this happening again’.

RJ McLeod, whose most recent turnover was £194 million with a profit of £25 million, had taken temporary possession from another company, ABV.

They were carrying out work on a Glasgow City Council project on surface water to reduce flooding in the area.

Sheriff Matthew Jackson KC told the sentencing that the headline figure for a fine was £1.5 million.

The sheriff stated that this was reduced due to mitigating factors notably the timing of the company’s plea.

He said: ‘Nothing this court can do can bring Shea back who was a wonderful son and friend, as well as a loss to his family, school and all of us.

‘What this court can do is select an appropriate sentence.

‘Everyone can learn from this dreadful mistake.’

He added: ‘This is a fine which will remind the company’s shareholders and directors of the gravity of this offence.

‘This will not lessen in any way or replace the terrible loss of Shea’s life.’

Pictured: Floral tributes left at the site in 2020 after Shea died

A member of the public gallery shouted: ‘They will still sleep at night – she won’t be.’

The earlier hearing was told that the company ‘failed to undertake a full assessment on the work area and consider its close proximity to the nearby play park and the risk of children being attracted to the site as well as identify the measures to prevent unauthorised access’. 

The company was also found not to have kept the existing measures under review.

They were further criticised for not having double fencing on the area of the site.

The hearing was told that the fencing had been subject to vandalism in the past and that the site had been breached on six occasions.

The fencing had been bolstered in the past, but this did not happen at the area near the play park.

Mr Ul-Hassan said: ‘There was a lack of a formal written system that all fence reports and system were recorded in writing.’

It was stated that, as a result, the company didn’t take sufficient action to eliminate known risk until after the incident.

The reason for the manhole cover being removed has not been determined.

Since the incident, the company has increased its fencing measures and a log has been implemented. Its manhole covers are also subject to checks.

Motions sensors and solar powered security cameras have also been installed.

Paul Marshall, defending, told the earlier hearing: ‘I extend deepest sympathies for the tragic loss to the family of Shea.

‘The company takes safety very seriously and it is a matter of great concern and remorse that he lost his life for the breach which the company accepts responsibility.

‘The company accepts responsibility for the breaches libelled which was failing to carry out a sufficient risk assessment on people gaining access to the construction site.’

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