Worker at West Bromwich flat where mother died only had basic training, court told

An electrician who supposedly carried out tests on a faulty electrical circuit which led to the death of a mother-of-one was not qualified for the role, a jury has heard.

Emma Shaw
Emma Shaw

Christopher Tomkins had only completed the first part of a City and Guilds qualification when he was working in the flat where 22-year-old Emma Shaw was electrocuted, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard yesterday. This, the court was told, would have meant he was only qualified for the basics of the job, and not for testing installations in the flat when it was built around 21 months before her death.

Paul Gilson, a Health and Safety Executive electrical inspector, was asked by prosecuting barrister Mr Richard Matthews QC about this qualification during Tomkins’ trial yesterday.

He said: “It’s the basic qualification that probably an apprentice would expect to achieve to undertake assisting an electrician. Part two of the course is one that would normally be completed and passed by an electrician who would undertake an electrician’s work. It still would not justify ever being considered to be a test inspector.”

Tomkins, aged 52 and from Rowley Village, Rowley Regis, is accused of one charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. His co-defendant, 53-year-old Neil Hoult, from Dane Terrace, also of Rowley Regis, was his qualified supervisor who signed off the certification on the tests.

Mr Matthews told the court that, in a police interview, Hoult revealed he had known Tomkins was not qualified to carry out testing on the new-build flats at Jefferson Court in West Bromwich.

This, Mr Gilson said, should have alerted suspicion when Hoult saw Tomkins’ name on test documentation.

He said: “It should raise his concern, and he should make it evident to his supervisor and say: ‘I’m uneasy signing any paperwork that’s been filled in by someone that I know is not a test inspector’. That in my opinion is a flaw in his judgment.” The court has already heard that, after Miss Shaw’s death in December 2007, a fault in one of her flat’s circuits was found as a wire had been pierced by a screw, which in turn transferred current to a metal frame behind a wall.

Mr Gilson claimed this should have been detected during tests of the flat’s circuits.

Mr Rex Tedd QC, defending Tomkins, said that although he was only qualified to that low level, he actually had 30 years of practical working experience as an electrician’s mate, and suggested that there was no way to accurately measure his true ability.

Mr Tedd also said that a number of facts filled out correctly by Tomkins on his written form were later recorded falsely, by another party, on the typed certified version that would have been sent to the flat’s owner. That included the fact he correctly recorded there was no residual-current device fitted, which may have presented a fatal incident, but on later forms the opposite was recorded. The trial continues.