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Test may have found electrical fault which killed mother, court told

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

An electrical fault which killed a 22-year-old mother of one would have been detected had the proper test been done, a court has heard.

Two electricians stand accused of breaching health and safety law after Emma Shaw was electrocuted at her home in West Bromwich on December 14, 2007.

Miss Shaw was found dead in the storage room of her Jefferson Place flat, on Grafton Road, by her partner after dealing with a leak from her boiler while her 23-month-old son was in the living room.

Christopher Tomkins, 52 and from Rowley Village, Rowley Regis, and 53-year-old Neil Hoult, from Dane Terrace, also Rowley Regis, have both denied one charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

At the opening of their trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court yesterday, the jury was told that they were both employed by Anchor Building and Electrical Services Ltd, which had been contracted to carry out electrical work during the development of Jefferson Place in 2006.

Prosecuting barrister Mr Richard Matthews QC said that a form filled in by Tomkins on March 8, 2006, appeared to show he had carried out insulation testing on all electrical circuits in the flat that would later become home to Miss Shaw.

That form showed all of the circuits in the flat were problem free – including one that fed an immersion heater in the boiler, circuit three – and a typed copy was then signed off by Hoult, who was Tomkins' qualified supervisor.

Mr Matthews said: "In fact the electrical installation, the prosecution says, was far from safe, and expert investigation since Emma Shaw's death has revealed a cable in circuit three had been penetrated by a screw during the construction phase of the development.

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"That caused a metal frame inside the wall to become live and charged to 230 volts, which occurred prior to the inspection and testing.

"If Christopher Tomkins had tested circuit three properly, or at all, as he had reported he had done and which Neil Hoult certified, then the fault that was present would have been detected immediately, and the problem investigated and remedied.

"Instead, the prosecution allege, through their negligence an extremely dangerous situation was allowed to persist over a period of at least 21 months until in 2007 the events unfolded."

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The jury were shown a video compiled by the Health and Safety Executive that showed how the fatal electrocution is believed to have occurred.

A wire was pierced by a screw when the wall of the flat's storage room was being constructed with plasterboard.

Via that screw, an electrical current was then transferred to the metal 'c-section' frame within the partition wall. That metal frame would have remained charged from the time of the wall's construction until Miss Shaw's death nearly two years later.

When Miss Shaw's boiler began to leak, a puddle was created on the floor which would then also have been charged by the metal frame. Miss Shaw knelt in that puddle, meaning she too became charged with 230 volts, and when she touched the earthed stopcock to turn off the water an electrical current was passed through her.

Mr Matthews said she would not have been able to release the stopcock, and would have quickly become unconscious.

He told the jury that when a working circuit is insulation tested it should show a meter reading of 200 mega-ohms, and anything under that reading should have alerted an electrician to a problem.

Of the faulty circuit, he said: "A resistance test would have produced a reading of 0.02 mega-ohms, some 10,000 times less than the 200 mega-ohms figure."

Nevertheless, he said a reading of 200 was recorded by Tomkins. Mr Matthews also said that, on the same form, a reading of 200 was given by Tomkins for a circuit that did not exist in the flat.

This is something that Hoult should have picked up, Mr Matthews alleges.

Both Tomkins and Hoult have denied one charge of failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The trial continues.

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