Families criticise further delay to Birmingham crush deaths case

Relatives of five men who died at scrap metal plant in 2016 say it is ???as if our lives do not matter???

Emergency services at the scene of the collapse at a Hawkeswood Metal Recycling site in Birmingham
Emergency services at the scene of the collapse at a Hawkeswood Metal Recycling site in Birmingham. Photograph: Richard Vernalls/PA

The families of five migrant workers who were crushed to death at a scrap metal plant four years ago say they have been treated ???as if our lives do not matter??? after the criminal investigation was hit with further delays.

The men, who were from the Gambia and Senegal and were employed on zero-hours contracts, were killed on 7 July 2016 when a 3.6-metre wall and 263 tonnes of metal collapsed on top of them at the Hawkeswood Metal Recycling site in Birmingham.

The deaths of Almamo Jammeh, 45, Ousmane Diaby, 39, Bangally Dukureh, 55, Saibo Sillah, 42, and Muhamadou Jagana, 49, are believed to be the single biggest loss of life at a recycling plant in the UK.

Despite a four-year criminal investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and an inquest???s finding that the risk of the tragedy was foreseeable, no one has yet been arrested or prosecuted over the deaths.

The men???s families say they were distraught after being told recently that the investigation had been delayed further, despite ???repeated promises??? from the HSE that it would decide whether to prosecute the scrap metal firm Shredmet, which owns the site, before the fourth anniversary next week.

The families say they feel they have been treated differently because of their heritage. In a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, they said: ???This news has caused us grief and anguish. We have met with delay at every stage of the process. We demand justice and accountability. We are five black families, from Gambia and Senegal; it is as if our lives do not matter. Our lives do matter.???

The five men had travelled to the UK from Spain seeking work and were employed by an agency as recycling operatives on zero-hours contracts.

They were clearing out a storage bay when the wall and metal weighing the equivalent of 15 double-decker buses collapsed on top of them. The men had to be identified by their fingerprints after receiving ???devastating blunt-force injuries,??? an inquest heard.

In November 2018 the inquest jury recorded a verdict of accidental death despite finding that the collapse was a ???foreseeable risk??? and that the failure to spot it contributed to the men???s deaths.

The inquest heard evidence from Martyn Ostcliffe, an engineering expert at the HSE, who said there were no risk assessments in place at the site and that safety inspections were a ???tick-box exercise???. He said the wall ???could have gone at any time???.

The families said: ???This was a workplace where human life and workers??? rights were completely and repeatedly disregarded. We are in no doubt that this amounted to a crime and that those responsible should feel the full force of the law and be punished accordingly. Criminal prosecution will also ensure that what happened to us will not happen again.???

The families say they have been refused compensation by Shredmet, causing them to suffer financially while they raise their children. Graham Woodhouse, the director of Shredmet, denied it was refusing to compensate the families and said the matter was being dealt with by the firm???s insurers.

He said Shredmet shared the families??? concern about the length of time the HSE investigation had taken, and added: ???It would have been in everyone???s interests for the HSE to progress matters.???

The HSE said it had been carrying out a thorough criminal investigation which had ???taken longer than we had hoped???.

It said changes to the legal team and disruption caused by coronavirus had added further delay. ???It is precisely because these lives matter that we are diligently progressing the thorough investigation they deserve,??? it said.