Tag Archives: FACK

FACK Statement on the suicide of George Cheese

FACK Statement on the suicide of George Arthur Cheese, apprentice at Audi Dealership, Reading

The Coroner Peter Bedford has concluded that Audi Reading management were not responsible for the death of apprentice George Cheese. 1

Stressing that there were other factors in play, Peter Bedford said he understood Cheese’s parents’ desire to blame the Audi dealership, but added that steps taken by the management following his death had succeeded in improving conditions there.

Families Against Corporate Killers has taken up this case as it highlights yet again the completely inadequate way in which work-related suicides are handled by the criminal justice system, and especially those relating to bullying of young people.  We were not present at the Inquest and did not hear the evidence the Coroner took into account in making his conclusion.   But whatever other factors were ‘in play’ in his death, the appalling bullying George suffered at work, as reported at the Inquest, must be addressed and those responsible held to account.  This verdict only lets employers off the hook.

We are concerned that there does not seem to have been an investigation under the Joint Protocol on Work-Related Death;  there may be no-one held to account for the bullying George suffered at his workplace, which as  reported at the Inquest was known about and allowed to continue by management.  We do not feel that steps taken by his employer after George took his own life in any way absolve them of their actions.  The catalogue of bullying abuse George faced is heartbreaking and includes:

“His parents said George  “over the moon” when he got the position at the Audi dealership, but he soon  started coming home covered in bruises and had holes burned into his clothes

“George Cheese’s coworkers at the Reading garage locked him in a cage, doused him in brake fluid and set his clothes set on fire.

“The court heard of one occasion when four men held him down while a fifth punched his leg, leaving him with a long-lasting limp.

 “Much of the abuse was dismissed as “banter” and “horseplay” by his then colleagues.

“After the police returned his belongings, his mother found 14 diary entries saved in the calendar app on his iPad, describing traumatic events from his workplace. One said: “My boss told me to hurry up and hang myself because I’m a useless piece of shit.”

“Cheese referred to a “PC” in his diary entries, writing: “PC tied me up, pressure-washed me. Thought it was hilarious. I couldn’t stand up afterwards. He called me a pussy and I had to walk home soaking wet.”

Another entry said “PC” had approached Cheese after his parents complained to the company and called him “a pussy who went telling tales to mummy”.

Work-Related suicides are on the rise and we estimate account for at least 300 deaths per year. 2 The HSE excludes suicides from being reported under the Reporting of injuries, death and dangerous  Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 3  and they are not properly investigated under the Joint Protocol on Work Related Death 4.

Consequently the employers and managers who play a role in the bullying or other work conditions that lead to a death by suicide are not held to account, and there are rarely any prosecutions for the work-related actions such as bullying, or long hours, excessive workloads, low pay and insecurity, all of which are reported to drive workers to take their own lives.

The Inquest is not a place to determine or ascribe blame, but to ascertain who died, when, where and how.  It is the authority responsible for enforcing health and safety in the workplace – the HSE or Local Authority in this case- and the police under the Joint Protocol for Work Related Death which should investigate, hold employers to account, take enforcement action to ensure future compliance,  and if there is sufficient evidence take prosecutions for breaches in the law.

Work-related suicides are not counted by the HSE, therefore do not count and are not taken seriously. Even when there is a blatant link with work, such as taking of a life in a workplace and letters specific work causes.  5

In a similar case to that of George Cheese, in Manchester in 2003 , 18 year old Hannah Kirkham took an overdose and died because she was being bullied at KFC.  Unlike in George’s case, the effect of the bullying was accepted as a major cause of her death.  At the Inquest in 2005,  the jury delivered a narrative verdict saying ‘she meant to kill herself by taking an overdose, was clinically depressed and this was “significantly influenced” by bullying at work. 6

However, as in George’s case, the Coroner ( Simon Nelson) , also noted favourably the employers’ action after her death: ‘KFC’s reaction to this inquiry in my view was appropriate, sensitive and proactive.”  He added he hoped anti-bullying policies made by the firm would prevent “similar tragic incidents”.

In both George’s and Hannah’s case, management were aware of, or shamefully, participated in totally unacceptable behaviour towards a vulnerable young colleague yet are not held accountable for the tragic outcome. In both cases the Coroners referred approvingly to action taken after the death.

‘Lessons have been learned’ are often the cruellest words a family can hear after someone they love has been killed by an employer’s negligence.  While everyone wants to ensure no-one else dies, it is surely only to be expected that improvements will be made? That an employee’s death would be a ‘wake up call’ for a negligent employer ?  But changes put in place afterwards, which should by law have been there before to stop the person dying, are cold comfort and should not be used to absolve the employers’ failures or show them in a better light.  It is not sufficient for justice that future deaths are prevented if employers are allowed to get away with the actions that contribute to a worker taking their life.

FACK are looking into work-related suicides generally and George Cheese’s death in particular.  We feel that work related suicides cannot be left to Inquests alone as they cannot hold employers to account for actions they have taken, or failed to take, that contribute to the suicide.  We are calling for

  • The HSE to change their policy and make it a duty under the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) – http://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/reportable-incidents.htm for employers to report suicide of employees when there is any suspicion  it might be work-related.
  • Ensure that all signatories to the Join Protocol on Work-Related Death – http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wrdp1.pdf-  investigate suicides for work-related issues.
  • The Local Authority with responsibility for enforcing health and safety legislation in George’s workplace to take action to ensure the employers are held to account for the failings that allowed George to be bullied and contributed to his death, and to take enforcement action to ensure future compliance.

Notes:

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/25/george-cheese-bullied-mechanic-killed-himself-audi-garage-not-to-blame-coroner
  2. The Whole Story”: http://www.gmhazards.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Hazards-Campaign-challenging-the-HSE-statistics.pdf
  3. RIDDOR:  http://www.hse.gov.uk/riddor/reportable-incidents.htm;
  4. Joint Protocol on Work-Related Death: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wrdp1.pdf
  5. The Last Goodbye http://www.hazards.org/suicide/suicidalwork.htm

Inquest into Hannah Kirkham’s death: . http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/4508022.stm

FACK Statement International Workers’ Memorial Day 28 April 2017

FACK families spend International Workers’ Memorial Day remembering our dead and further reinforcing our commitment to fight like hell for the living: you and your loved ones.

We do it because this year the TUC focus for the day is on good health and safety for all workers whoever they are.  Because, whoever they are, they are someone’s parent, spouse, sibling, child…they are someone’s loved one.

Until it touches your life, you can’t fully appreciate the impact it has.  Seeing a fiancé going from choosing wedding cars to sitting in a funeral cortege.  Having to visit a cemetery, once a month or more to lay flowers for a son and brother, who didn’t get the opportunity to become an uncle, a husband or a dad.  Knowing you’ll never answer the phone again to hear the words “how you doin’ sis?”  Having to send happy Easter, Christmas, anniversary, or birthday wishes “up there”.  Or wishing you’d been able to say goodbye that morning before they left.

You see, the HSE figure of 144 people killed at work last year is heartbreaking enough in itself: that so many should leave home, never to return.  And so is knowing that the last text you sent your husband read: “Hey sexy husband, hope your day’s got more exciting.  Love you.”  Mark was that sexy husband.  He was dead before he got the chance to read it, all down to lack of health and safety protections which he, his wife Tracey and their now 4-yr-old daughter should have expected to be a given.

It should also be a given that each and every work-related death is recognised, counted and therefore made to count!  We must remember all of the dead.  Because the HSE figure doesn’t include those who die at sea, or as a result of air incidents, or who die on our roads while working (or who are driving home dog tired after having to work excessively long hours of work), members of the public killed by work-related activities, or the huge numbers killed by occupational illnesses such as asbestos cancers.

It also doesn’t count those who die by suicide due to work.  Hazards estimates this at around 300 every year across the UK.  Almost one person every day driven to suicide because of work-related stress, fears over job security and low pay, work overload, bullying, or indeed as a result of injury or illness suffered at work, or the death of colleagues.

We daren’t begin to contemplate the horror of knowing your loved one, a police officer, took his own life after two of his colleagues were killed in the line of duty.  Having written out his own death tag, he hanged himself from a tree at a spot where he’d previously found a suicide victim.

Or the feeling of helplessness felt by the wife of the popular firefighter on hearing he had been found dead at his station having taken his own life.  She had reassured him “it was just a job and it didn’t matter”, that it was her “and the kids who were important”.  He was a man who “had never been the same” after the preventable death of a fellow firefighter two years previous and who a coroner was to find had had “pressure upon pressure piled upon him” at work.

Just as a young teacher had.  Her family state she was “worked to death” after a job promotion, only sleeping for 3 hours a night as her “mind was in overdrive”.  How would you ever being to come to terms with a loved one’s decision to jump to their death from a motorway bridge.

If we’re to effectively fight for the living, we must recognise work-related suicide – just as they do in Japan, Australia and France – and work to eliminate the causes.  We must resist the move to resilience as a means of tackling stress, and instead focus on removing or fixing the hazards, rather than fixating on fixing the worker.

A report in Hazards magazine states that: “when people feel they no longer have a voice in the workforce, they protest in other ways including, in the most extreme cases, by killing themselves.”

The most powerful voice is a collective one.  And we know that a union workplace is a far safer workplace!  Fewer injuries and occupational illnesses.  Less sickness absence.  And better reporting of health and safety problems, so they can be fixed before a worker suffers life-changing, life-limiting or life-ending consequences.

A union workplace is also a fairer, more equal one.

The international theme for today centres on inequality at work.  Because the work a person does often results from inequality and results in health inequality.  The lower your pay grade, the higher your health and safety risks, whether from overwork, exposure to substances which cause cancer, the inability to turn down overtime and shift work, or the worry about speaking up on health and safety for fear you lose your job and your family’s livelihood as a result.

As the “gig economy” and precarious work becomes increasingly prevalent, we see workers expected to survive on contracts that are temporary or casual in nature, with no guarantee as to hours, which are low paid, and which lack access to employment benefits and important legal protections.  These work arrangements negatively impact on the health and safety of individuals, whether in the form of increased incidence of workplace injury, work intensification and stress levels, or decreased collective organisation and trade union membership.  We must counter this and get political priorities properly focused, reiterating that we didn’t – and we won’t – vote to die at work!

We will continue the work of getting to a point where never again does a loved one leave home in a work’s van, only to return in one belonging to an undertaker.

So on this International Workers’ Memorial Day, we urge you to remember not only our dead, but all of the dead…and let’s ensure we fight like hell to ensure all others are able to keep on with the most important job of all, that of living life to the fullest each and every day.

FACK was established in July 2006, by and for families of people killed by the gross negligence of business employers, see www.fack.org.uk

Founder Members of FACK:

Dawn and Paul Adams son Samuel Adams aged 6 killed at Trafford Centre,10th October 1998

Linzi Herbertson – husband Andrew Herbertson 29, killed at work in January 1998

Mike and Lynne Hutin son Andrew Hutin 20, killed at work on 8th Nov 2001

Mick & Bet Murphyson Lewis Murphy 18, killed at work on 21st February 2004

Louise Taggart brother Michael Adamson 26, killed at work on 4th August 2005

Linda Whelanson Craig Whelan 23, (and Paul Wakefield) killed at work on 23rd May 2004

Dorothy & Douglas Wrightson Mark Wright 37, killed at work on 13th April 2005

For more information and to support  FACK, contact Hilda Palmer, Facilitator for FACK: Tel 0161 636 7557