Wrexham club owner exposed his workers to health risk

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WORKERS were exposed to a substantial health risk when a nightclub building was gutted without any thought for asbestos.

Skip company workers and members of the public were potentially put at risk when the cancer-causing material was removed without precautions and taken to an unlicensed site at Chirk via a skip company at Minera, a court heard yesterday.

People who had been exposed to it might have to wait 20 to 30 years before they knew if they had been affected, a court heard.

The owner of the former Scott’s Nightclub in Brook Street, Wrexham, admitted removing the potential fatal materials without necessary safeguards to prevent asbestos escaping.

Michael Campbell Murton, 35, received a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and was ordered to pay £10,000 in costs. Judge Philip Hughes said it was clear high levels of asbestos contamination was present both inside and outside the building.

Contaminated material was dry-scraped by Murton and his workers, creating large quantities of dust.

“The toxic material was simply disposed of down a chute out of an upstairs window to an unsealed skip on the ground below,” said the judge.

“The risk to health was extended to the street outside and therefore to members of the public.”

He accepted Murton did not know the asbestos was there and had been reckless.

“This was born out of ignorance rather than a cynical attempt to save money,” he said.

Mold Crown Court heard Murton, who previously ran a bar in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, bought the Wrexham building for £350,000.

It remained sealed up and contaminated and the project was a financial disaster. Murton, of Bewdley, Kidderminster, trading with his wife as Q2 Pool Bar, admitted a dozen Hazardous Waste Regulations, Environmental Protection Act and Asbestos Regulations charges brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency following the escape of asbestos while fire proofing material was removed in February 2010.

The court heard how a tip-off led to the work being halted. Specialists were drafted in to seal off the site and make it safe.

The clean-up operation took several weeks and cost more than £200,000. The removal of all the asbestos in the building will cost an additional £70,000.

Extensive work was undertaken to ensure the building was completely sealed because the fibre levels were found to be extremely high – up to 1,000 fibres per millilitre, which is about 10,000 times the control limit.

One specialist contractor later said it was “one of the worst jobs I have seen in terms of asbestos contamination”.

Prosecutor Simon Parrington said the case concerned the disturbance and spread of substantial quantities of asbestos fibres, the risks associated with exposure to asbestos to staff and members of the public and with environmental offences associated with hazardous waste disposal.

“Given that all forms of asbestos are potent carcinogens and that men working on site were exposed to high levels, it is clear the risk to health, including that of the defendant, was very substantial.”

Murton, he said, had failed to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect himself, his staff and others from the risks associated with asbestos. Seven people worked on the site, including himself.

Murton bought the three-storey steel-framed building with concrete floors in January last year and set about completely refurbishing it as three bars, one on each floor.

He employed a number of men to do the work and some of them removed the two-inch thick fireproofing material, which had a brown asbestos coating, from the beams. The material had not been used since 1975.

About 10 beams had been scraped by hand and the scrapings were simply shovelled up and thrown down a rubbish chute to a skip outside.

One worker said a large amount of dust was created and the wind blew it outside. It was so thick at times that he could not see his hand in front of him. There was no training, no protective equipment and no guidance about how to do the work safely. No survey had been carried out to establish the presence of asbestos.

HSE inspector Debbie Johns issued a prohibition notice because the whole area, including outside the building, could be contaminated.

The work should have involved specialist contractors in protective suits working in a sealed environment with a decontamination unit on site, Mr Parrington said. “It was a site that had become highly contaminated by asbestos.”

It emerged that skip company S and K Matthews Ltd of Minera had accepted asbestos on to its site without realising it.

This was sorted by hand and then disposed of at Penybont, Chirk, a location which was not licensed to receive it.

The skip and its load of asbestos found at the club was eventually removed and buried at a hazardous landfill site in Skelmersdale. The skip was buried with the waste because of the risks involved in disturbing it.

Murton told investigators he had no idea there was asbestos on site.

Ruth Edwards, defending, said with hindsight it might be obvious checks should have been carried out to see if asbestos was present but at the time it was not obvious.

She conceded, however, that ignorance was no defence.

Murton, his wife, his workers and others had all been exposed to the risk of asbestos because he was completely unaware it was there.

If he could raise £30,000 to try to gain planning consent for shops with flats above, the building might be sold for £500,000 which would still mean a not inconsiderable loss to her client.

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