Millionaire businessman guilty of manslaughter

Mike Holland (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)
Mike Holland (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)

Two men have today (June 8) been found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the death of a workman in Brighton in 2014, Sussex Police said.

Michael Holland, 69, a company director of Kings Road, Brighton, and Grant Oakes, 46, a site foreman of Elm Drive, Hove, had denied a charge each of gross negligence manslaughter in connection with the death of 55-year-old carpenter David Clark.

Victim Dave Clark

Victim Dave Clark

Mr Clark died on October 28, 2014, after falling through a gap in the first floor of a building he was working on at Stanmer Park stables a month before.

Lewes Crown Court heard that Mr Clark, of Dyke Avenue Road, Hove, who worked as a sub-contractor for Holland's company, was airlifted to St George's Hospital, Tooting, in a critical condition after falling 14ft to the ground on September 30. He died a month later at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.

At the start of the three-week long trial, well-known businessman Holland, who is the owner and sole director of Hove-based Cherrywood Investments Ltd, pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In doing so he accepted that neglect on his part meant that persons on the site were exposed to risks to their health and safely when working at height. The company, Cherrywood Investments Ltd, also admitted a similar offence.

Oakes was also charged with an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was accused of failing to take suitable measures to prevent, as far as possible, any person working on the site, falling a distance liable to cause them personal injury. He had denied the offence but was found guilty.

Holland admitted a charge of consenting or conniving in a failure to discharge a duty under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 due to neglect. Holland's Hove-based company, formerly called Cherrywood Investments Ltd, also admitted a charge of failure to discharge a duty contrary to section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - namely failed to ensure that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety when working at height.

Holland and Oakes will be sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on July 21.

'His loss will be felt forever'

Mr Clark's fiancé Beverley Clark said: "These two men had a duty of care to a man that worked for them. That man was my fiancé, that man went to work one morning and never came home again as a result of an accident that should never have occurred.

"Dave was not just a name, not just a statistic - like I feel he has been portrayed in this case. He was real. He was my partner, my love, my rock. He was a loving and devoted granddad. He was a caring and supportive father. He was a true friend to so many people and always put others needs and concerns before his own. Dave died too soon in what I feel were totally unnecessary and unfair circumstances. His loss will be felt forever.

"Nothing will bring my Dave back. Nothing will heal my broken heart or make my life worth living again. But if this awful experience I have had to go through, reliving it all again and again daily in court, means it highlights the dangers and stops other families having to suffer the heartache and loss that we suffer daily, then I can take a little peace from this knowledge.

"The only good that can come out of all this, is if it stops even one single company from cutting corners to earn a few extra pounds in profit. It should make individual people stop and think, “No I’m not taking that risk, not even if it means losing my job” because you can get another job. You cannot get another life."

Strong message

Detective Inspector Mick Jones said: "Dave Clark went to work that fateful morning in 2014 and his partner Beverley had every right to expect him to return. However the unsafe conditions on that building site on which numerous men were working, particularly those working at height, meant that it wasn’t to be.

"Michael Holland was the sole director of Cherrywood Investments Ltd, now trading as Threadneedle Estates Ltd, and Grant Oakes was the site foreman. The Health and Safety Executive had stopped any work being done on the same site a year earlier due to the unsafe conditions, highlighting the working at height breaches they were committing among numerous others.

"These breaches were addressed and Oakes subsequently attended a site management training course where he was instructed among other things about working at height and how to do so safely. It did not take long for these improved standards to drop again. Mr Clark in attempting to cross a void on the first floor stepped on a scaffolding board which then snapped causing him to fall to the ground. He suffered head injuries and a broken neck and he was airlifted to hospital where he remained immobile for a number of weeks. This immobility led to Mr Clark developing DVT and he subsequently died.

"The court heard that Holland made numerous visits to the site and was able to see the unsafe conditions but did not act to stop those working on it. Oakes as site foreman also let work continue without adopting any of the numerous safety measures that could have been adopted that would have prevented Mr Clark falling or at the very least lessened the impact of any fall. The jury quite rightly found this to be grossly negligent.

"I hope that these convictions send a strong message to those within the construction industry that the safety of those working on sites should be of paramount importance. Where this is not the case, the Health and Safety Executive and police will tenaciously pursue them and bring them to justice."