Matthew Campbell: council and construction company fined over Glengormley engineer’s death

A Northern Ireland council and a construction company who admitted health and safety failings following the death of an electrical engineer were today (Tuesday, March 26) handed fines totalling £50,000.
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While Newry, Mourne and Down District council was fined £20,000 at Newry Crown Court, Lagan Construction Ltd was fined £30,000 over the “freak accident" which "could have – and should have – been avoided.”

The case arose following the tragic death of 24-year-old Matt Campbell, from Glengormley, and as he imposed the fines, Judge Paul Ramsey KC quoted from a victim impact statement from his dad where he described how “words can never describe the devastating effect Matthew's sudden unnecessary death has had on his family.”

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"He says that they all miss and think of him every second of every day. He was a wonderful son, whom we loved very much and still do,” the judge told the court. "Matthew was a kind, generous, funny and loving young man who made us proud every day of his short life.

Matthew Campbell. Photo submittedMatthew Campbell. Photo submitted
Matthew Campbell. Photo submitted

"Instead of Matthew bringing his children to visit his grandparents, we as Matthew's family are going to the grave to grieve and visit him, or to Slieve Gullion Forest Park where he had his last living moment. The hurt and the pain and the loss we feel will never end."

Judge Ramsey described how Matt’s dad was also “proud to say that following Matthew's death, his family and friends completed the Mourne Wall Challenge and raised £27,000 for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance in his son's memory. Following his funeral a further £1,800 was raised for the Macmillan nurses.”

Reading from Mr McCauley's victim impact statement, Judge Ramsey said he was struck by one passage in particular, which described the final moments before Mr Campbell's death.

Parked Outside

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"The forestry vehicle left and we drove our vehicles and parked outside the gate. One forestry worker remained and closed the gate. He left a pedestrian access space for us at the gate side that was off its hinges. We could not leave straight away as we had a duty to make the site safe first. That's why they went back into the park."

Judge Ramsey said that passage "poignantly demonstrates the sense of duty that this young man had".

At the time of the tragic accident Mr Campbell had been working for Lagan Construction Ltd and as the park itself is owned and controlled by Newry, Mourne and Down Council, they both faced health safety charges.

Just before Christmas last year the council, with their head offices at Downshire Civic Centre in Downpatrick, entered guilty pleas to failing to make appropriate risk assessments for non-employees and employees respectively and to failing to ensure, so far as would be reasonable practicable, the health and safety of employees and non-employees on 19 September 2018.

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On the day that Lagan Construction were due to go on trial in January the company, with offices on the Sydenham Road in Belfast, entered a guilty plea to failing to make a proper risk assessment.

Just the week before the tragic accident, Matt and his fiancée Robyn Newberry had sent out 'save the date' cards in preparation for their wedding in August 2019 and on the day tragedy struck, she had collected the couples’ wedding rings.

Matthew was working for Lagan Construction at Slieve Gullion Forest Park in Co Armagh as strong winds lashed Northern Ireland during Storm Ali on September 19, 2018. The 24-year-old was crushed to death by a falling 200-year-old beech tree – dying instantly in what the judge said was "a freak accident" which "could have – and should have – been avoided.”

During his sentencing remarks Judge Ramsey KC, said “I take the view that this monumental tragedy only happened because two independent culpabilities came together to create the situation that led to Matthew's death."

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Mr Campbell, who had only begun working with Lagan Construction as an electrical engineer three and a half months prior, was working under the supervision of Steven McCauley, who also suffered horrific injuries in the incident.

Newry, Mourne and Down District (NMD) Council, in accepting a health and safety breach, confirmed they received emails from the Met Office regarding weather warnings.

Probable Damage

Judge Ramsey said: "It's important to note that the storm was expected to increase in strength as time went on, rather than decrease, as some storms often do. On Tuesday, September 18, 2018 – the day before the accident [and] three minutes after the previous update - the yellow warning for Wednesday was updated further to Amber, warning of flying debris, potentially causing risk to life and probable damage to buildings."

The court heard that at the time of Storm Ali, NMD Council had no written policy in place regarding the opening of Slieve Gullion, or other facilities under its control. When severe weather warnings have been issued the council relied on assessments made by staff at each facility to determine whether it was safe to continue to operate and keep open their facilities during severe adverse weather. As a result, some facilities in the district were closed, including Warrenpoint Park and Kilbroney Forest Park but Slieve Gullion remained open.

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Judge Ramsey continued: "On the day of the fatality, a member of the public had already been struck by falling branches and wounded, requiring hospital treatment, the defendant council did take the decision to close its Slieve Gullion facility. The decision was taken piecemeal, with parts of the forest park being closed, before a decision was taken to enclose the entire facility."

After the decision had been taken, the Slieve Gullion Park attendants began to clear the public and members of the staff from the park.

Mr Campbell had been working with his colleague at the water service facility within the park and they too were told the park was closing. They were observed by park attendants leaving in their vehicles but then re-entering the park on foot to make safe the kiosk they had been working on and it was shortly after they re-entered the park that the fatality occurred.

Lagan Construction admitted that the risk assessment undertaken was insufficient and it failed to take account of the fact the project was being undertaken in an area populated with mature trees in a forest park setting.

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The court also heard that following a court hearing back in February, representatives from the council, including the chief executive, met with Mr Campbell's mother and father and offered a formal apology for the Council's failing, "which was warmly appreciated by the family".

In handing down the fines, Judge Ramsey urged both Lagan Construction and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to also make a voluntary donation to a charity of Mr Campbell's choosing.