Firm plead guilty over failings after Tahnie Martin's death during Storm Doris
Tahnie Martin was killed by debris blown from a city centre roof during Storm Doris.
The company in charge of managing buildings for Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre when a 29-year-old woman was killed by debris blown from its roof during Storm Doris two years ago has admitted responsibility for the tragedy.
Tahnie Martin was struck by a rotten building panel torn loose by the strong winds as she walked past Starbucks in the city centre's Dudley Street February 23, 2017.
Ms Eleanor Sanderson, representing Cushman and Wakefield Debenham Tie Leung Limited, this afternoon pleaded guilty at the city's magistrates' court to its failure to properly maintain the building from which the deadly piece of wood fell.
Ms Martin's mother and father Rosie and Jim and her fiance Shaun Leewere in court to hear the lawyer pass on the firm's "sincerest condolences" and "deepest regrets" to the family for what happened.
It admitted that on and before February 23, 2017, it failed to ensure people were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Mr Bernard Thorogood, representing Wolverhampton Council whose Environmental Health department brought the case, successfully asked for the matter to be referred to the city's Crown Court for sentence.
He explained: "This is a case of great factual complexity and a very substantial fine is the likely sentence.
"It is an exceptionally sensitive case. Significant numbers of members of the public were at risk of death.
"This article could have collided with any number of people and the case has implications for those who maintain public buildings throughout the UK. It has lessons for all of them to learn."
District Judge Michael Wheeler said, in granting the application: "This was a horrible incident - an incident the company acknowledges with its plea that should not have happened and could have been avoided.
"It is an exceptionally sensitive case and the sentencing of it is to be of considerable, possibly national, concern."
An inquest into the death of the Wolverhampton University worker, who lived in Stafford, concluded that an 'absence of maintenance' had played a role in the tragedy.
The rotten and corroded panel - part of a water tank on top of the plant room roof - was split in two and blown away during the storm on February 23 2017.
One piece landed on the roof of an O2 shop, while the other fell to the ground hitting Ms Martin in the street below.
An expert told the inquest, that returned a narrative verdict, it was the "most rotten" panel he had ever seen.
A directions hearing for the case is scheduled to take place at Wolverhampton Crown Court on May 8.
'Her very bright future was cruelly stolen'
Rosie and Jim Martin were in court as Wakefield Debenham Tie Leung Limited pleaded guilty.
Mrs Martin had to be led from the hearing in tears on at least one occasion but she and her husband both courageously stood beside Wolverhampton City Council Senior Solicitor Richard Phillips as he spoke movingly about the victim outside the magistrates' court after the case had been adjourned.
The tears returned as he said: "Tahnie Martin is at the forefront of our thoughts today.
"She was a popular, beautiful and ambitious young woman who had a very bright future cruelly stolen from her in the most shocking of circumstances owing to the failings of Cushman and Wakefield Debenham Tie Leung Limited.
"The lives of her family have been shattered by her loss."
Mr Phillips continued: "Our Environmental Health team carried out a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances around Tahnie's death and their diligence has led to this successful criminal prosecution for breaches of Health and Safety legislation.
"We welcome the guilty plea of the defendant, made at the earliest opportunity, which means the family will not have to go through the stress of a trial.
"Tahnie's death was preventable and these tragic events simply should not have happened.
"Had the defendant fulfilled its legal duty to properly maintain the building structures above our main high street she would still be with her family today.
"It is our hope that this case will highlight to all those responsible for the maintenance of buildings of the need to thoroughly understand what they are responsible for and that buildings are suitably maintained to ensure such a devastating incident never occurs again."
Her heartbroken fiance Shaun Lee was also in court with her parents for the hearing.
Shattered colleagues at the University of Wolverhampton, where the 29-year-old from Stafford worked, called her a "shining star".
She had been working as maternity cover within the Faculty of Arts since the previous August was due to start a permanent job as a postgraduate marketing manager a week after tragedy struck.
Katharine Clough, director of external relations at the university, said after the death: "We feel privileged and honoured to have worked alongside Tahnie in our team.
"She was one of our shining stars, a talented and creative marketing professional with an enthusiasm and smile which were infectious. Tahnie was extremely popular and will be hugely missed."
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