no embargo - 10 October 2007( Back to news releases)
Press Statement from Linda Whelan after press reports of compensation payment after the death of my son Craig Whelan
Press Reports on 9th October 2007: ‘The family of a steeple jack incinerated by a "fireball" as he worked on the demolition of a 60-metre high chimney has won £335,000 compensation for their loss. Father-of-one, Craig Whelan, was just 23 when he died while working on the 200ft chimney at Carnaud Metal Box Plc's factory in Westhoughton, in May 2002.’
I am making a statement in response to the reports yesterday of the compensation payout following my son’s death. I was never interested in compensation for Craig’s death. Craig’s brothers and I have never sought any money and we have had no part in the civil case and the compensation payment to Craig’s daughter and his girlfriend. My case has always been for justice for Craig and for action to stop workers lives being treated so cheaply. Millions of pounds would not compensate me for my son’s smile or his presence at my table.
Craig was my third son, one of four very much loved boys: Darren, Dean and Christopher, of whom I am very proud. Craig was a loving son and a great brother and though he lived in Nottingham, we talked frequently and were very much a close family. As a single mother I worked hard to support all my sons and I brought them up to be hard working and independent. Craig was a conscientious worker, who took health and safety very seriously and in fact was about to leave his job as he was unhappy with the way things were handled by his employers. When I was told he had been killed and how he had died, in a fireball inside a chimney, my heart broke. How could any mother face hearing her son had died in such a terrible way?
When I heard he had been sent to his death by people who had been specifically warned against this method of working - cutting up a chimney from the inside, using hot cutting gear- as the residue on the inside was flammable, I felt angry as well as sad. When I realised this was very much to do with money, it was cheaper to demolish the chimney this way rather than from the outside using cold cutting gear, and Craig’s company had quoted a low price, then I felt he had been murdered to save a few quid. I felt that charging the three men from Metal Box with manslaughter was the right decision and they would face the possibility of a prison sentence for such gross negligence in killing my son. But the case fell apart and I was horrified that they were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges of breaching health and safety regulations and fined about £17,000 between them – such a tiny penalty for taking the lives of two men, I could hardly believe it.
Because they pleaded guilty, all the facts as to how Craig was killed did not come out in the court. Then to add further insult I was denied an Inquest and so I still do not know exactly what happened on that terrible day.
I needed to feel I had honoured my son by trying to find out everything I could and by trying to get some justice for his death for myself, his brothers and also his young daughter. I feel I have failed to get this but it’s not for lack of trying, it’s just that the whole system is stacked against families of people killed at work. We aren’t even considered victims of crime so don’t even get the help from Victims Support that someone who has had their car broken into would get. I have been robbed of my son and my other sons of their brother, but that’s not as important a crime as stealing property.
I wish I could, but I can’t bring Craig back. But I can try to stop other workers being killed as he was by negligent employers so other mothers and brothers don’t have to face the pain and empty sadness we do every day. So I founded a group called FACK – Families Against Corporate Killers with other families of people killed at work with the help of Greater Manchester Hazards Centre. We launched FACK in July 2006 at the national Hazards Conference in Manchester with the aims of trying to get better treatment of families and also a change in the law and in penalties so employers can be more easily charged with corporate manslaughter and face imprisonment when they negligently kill a worker. We also want to raise awareness of the appalling state of workplace safety and that many more people are killed at and by work than the official statistics reveal and the inadequacy of enforcement of the health and safety law. We produced a leaflet and set up a website which is still developing at www.fack.org.uk
We lobbied Parliament as the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill was going through. We talked to and wrote to MPs and Lords; we held meetings in the House of Commons; met with ministers -Gerry Sutcliffe at the Home Office and Lord McKenzie at DWP responsible for the Health and Safety Executive. We gave lots of radio, press and TV interviews and took part in programmes about health and safety. We spoke at conferences and at Workers Memorial Day events and worked hard to keep the issue in the public eye. We have gained members, lots of support amongst trade unions members and a great deal of publicity across the country. Recently we were invited to attend the Construction Forum by Peter Hain. Sec of State for DWP and asked for our views on reversing the increase in deaths in construction industry.
We must all realise that people we love are not necessarily safe at work if their employers are flouting the law, saving money by cutting corners, and the HSE is too poorly funded to enforce the law properly. As a founder member of FACK I will keep on fighting for tougher laws and stricter enforcement of those laws, followed by much higher fines from breaking health and safety law and more appropriate penalties for killing a person including sending grossly negligent bosses to prison. I will also fight for much more funding for the HSE – not the cuts it currently faces and I want this in order to deter and catch employers before they kill people not afterwards. Join us and help us make work safer and save lives, better safe than a broken heart.
Linda Whelan, mother of Craig Whelan killed 23rd May 2002.
Founder member of FACK
Linda Whelan 5 Surrey Place Willington, Crook, Co Durham Tel 01388 773884 work, or 01388 745967 home, mobile 07919334793