A self-employed builder has been fined for putting an Essex family in danger from leaking gas pipes after illegally replacing a boiler as part of a kitchen refit.
Peter Brown, 49, was responsible for an ‘immediately dangerous’ installation at the property in Wivenhoe.
He was prosecuted yesterday (2 October) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation established that he wasn’t registered to undertake gas work.
Colchester Magistrates’ Court heard that he worked at the home in November 2010 to install a new kitchen and boiler. However, on 19 December, less than four weeks after the work was completed, the householders awoke to a strong smell of gas in the kitchen. They called National Grid who identified that the gas pipework was leaking and classed it as “Immediately Dangerous”.
The householders, who do not wish to be named, made numerous attempts to contact Mr Brown to sort the problem, but to no avail.
A Gas Safe registered engineer inspected the property and found that the pipework installed beneath the floor had not been properly clipped or supported, and was leaking from an elbow joint.
Remedial work was carried out and the gas installation was put back into use, but the incident and lack of response from Mr Brown prompted the occupants to have the rest of his handiwork thoroughly checked.
A subsequent Gas Safe examination in February 2011 established that the flue collars had not been screwed to the flue and the flue elbow, and that there was a gap between the flue connection and the flue itself.
The examination also found that the hole in the wall for the flue had been cored out too low in the wall, and as a result the flue could not sit properly on the boiler. In the absence of any seal, combusted materials had the potential to leak into the kitchen.
Once again the installation was classified as “Immediately Dangerous” and isolated from use until extensive remedial work had been completed.
HSE’s investigation into the incident found that Peter Brown had never been Gas Safe registered, and there were no records to indicate that he had ever undergone any verification of competence through training or qualifications. Mr Brown was therefore not qualified to carry out any works involving the removal or installation of gas appliances.
In addition, it emerged that immediately after carrying out the gas work at the Wivenhoe home he had demanded a cash settlement for the work and refused to complete any details in the boiler’s commissioning documents.
The court was told that HSE served a Prohibition Notice on Mr Brown at his last known address in Chelmsford, but further correspondence and attempts to contact him by telephone were met with no response. It later emerged that he had sold his house in early 2012 and had endeavoured to conceal his whereabouts.
Extensive enquiries were made in an effort to trace him within the UK, but without success. Information from associates indicated that he had access to properties and contacts overseas and so, in November 2012, an immediate arrest warrant was applied for and granted by Colchester Magistrates Court.
On 25 September 2013, Mr Brown was arrested on warrant and brought back before Colchester Magistrates Court.
Peter Brown, currently staying at Prestbury Green, Shrewsbury, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 3(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998.
After the case, HSE Inspector Paul Grover, said:
“Peter Brown has never been Gas Safe registered and is therefore not competent to carry out any gas work. The standards of his workmanship in this instance were woeful and he knowingly put the householders in danger by exposing them to harmful combustion gases and the risk of an explosion.
“His actions appear to have been motivated by a desire to achieve material gain and he was prepared to place others in danger to achieve this. In doing so, he showed a complete disregard for the health and safety of his clients and the general public. He was totally unsympathetic when the clients sought his assistance after the installation leaked due his lack of competence.
“Once he was aware that his actions were the subject of an investigation by HSE, Peter Brown went to some lengths to conceal his whereabouts to avoid taking responsibility or answering for his offences before the law.
“HSE will continue to prosecute where it is clear that the health and safety of householders and the general public are put at risk.”
Russell Kramer chief executive of Gas Safe Register, added:
“Every Gas Safe registered engineer carries a Gas Safe ID card, which shows who they are and the type of gas appliances they are qualified to work on.
“We always encourage the public to ask for and check the card and if they have any concerns about the safety of work carried out in their home, to speak to us. Every year we investigate thousands of reports of illegal gas work. Call us on 0800 408 5500 or visit our website at www.gassaferegister.co.uk