Coroner slams crane death inquest delays

A BUILDING firm has been accused of 'dragging its heels' over an investigation into the death of a carpenter who was fatally crushed under a crane 18 months ago. Father-of-one Craig Page, 26, of Caledonian Road, Islington, suffered fatal injuries when a c

A BUILDING firm has been accused of "dragging its heels" over an investigation into the death of a carpenter who was fatally crushed under a crane 18 months ago.

Father-of-one Craig Page, 26, of Caledonian Road, Islington, suffered fatal injuries when a crane toppled on to him at a building site in Hampstead in March 2009.

Mr Page's partner Michelle O'Donoghue, also of Caledonian Road, is suing principle site contractor Harris Calnan Construction Ltd for alleged negligence.

If successful, she stands to win up to �1million in compensation for herself and the couple's daughter Shannon, now aged two.

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On Monday, Miss O'Donoghue was told that an inquest into Mr Page's death is unlikely to conclude until next May - more than two years since the tragic accident - after proceedings were adjourned for a third time.

Coroner Dr Andrew Reid vented his frustration over Harris Calnan's allegedly slow co-operation with an ongoing investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

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The findings, due next month, will determine whether the HSE launches a criminal court case against the firm.

Dr Reid said: "I am now in a position that we are not able to go ahead [with the inquest] this week. The HSE are still having to finish their report and reach a decision about prosecution. I want everyone to be aware of my concerns that we are not able to proceed."

Dr Reid threatened to refer the case to the Attorney General - the Government's chief legal advisor - for contempt of court in a bid to force Harris Calnan's two key witnesses to give evidence at the inquest.

The two men declined to answer Dr Reid's questions at an earlier hearing last September for fear they could be implicated in any potential criminal case bought by the HSE.

Dr Reid added: "We are here in September 2010, a year after this case was last in court. I infer there has been a degree of feet-dragging and clearly we are not going to be able to get this case on again until May 2011 - two years after Mr Page died, to the distress of Miss O'Donoghue."

But lawyer John McDonald, representing Harris Calnan Construction Ltd insisted the firm had "done nothing wrong" by declining to take part in an interview for the HSE investigation, as it had submitted a written statement instead.

HSE inspector Dominic Elliss admitted: "We can't require a company or individual to attend an interview. It was felt it was appropriate to wait."

Mr McDonald also revealed that dramatic new evidence had come to light following a "reconstruction" of the fatal accident carried out as part of Harris Calnan's own internal investigation.

He questioned whether an "overload cut-out" system - designed to stop excessive weight making the crane topple over - had been working properly on the day of Mr Page's death.

The safety system was the responsibility of crane hire firm King Lift Ltd, he added.

Mr McDonald told Dr Reid: "It is inappropriate to refer the matter to the Attorney General in the light of what appears to be incomplete evidence."

Dr Reid adjourned the case until "next February at the earliest" so the new evidence could be admitted in the inquest. With the HSE findings due by the end of October, and a jury needing to be summoned for the conclusion of the inquest, Dr Reid said May 2011 was "more realistic".

Speaking outside St Pancras Coroner's Court, Miss O'Donoghue's 56-year-old father Michael told the Gazette: "Michelle is right that she wants to wait to hear evidence from everyone involved. The quicker we come to a conclusion, the better for Michelle and the family.

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