Northern Ireland

Castlerock gas deaths: George Brown jailed for two years

Neil McFerran (l) and Aaron Davidson (r)
Image caption Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson were on a break before getting their exam results

A County Londonderry gas fitter has been sentenced to two years in prison and two on licence for the manslaughter of two teenagers in 2010.

George Brown, 52, from Ballygawley Road, Aghadowey, admitting killing Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson and a string of other charges, including health and safety breaches.

The pair died after they were overcome by carbon monoxide from a faulty boiler in Castlerock, County Londonderry.

Brown was also fined £19,000.

The 18-year-old friends, from Newtownabbey, County Antrim, died in a holiday home apartment on 3 August, 2010.

'Avoidable tragedy'

A third teenager was also overcome by the gas, but despite suffering serious injury, he survived.

An investigation found that the gas leak had been caused by a defective flue in a boiler.

Image caption George Brown pleaded guilty to a total of 20 charges on Tuesday

Mr Justice Weir described what happened in the Castlerock apartment as a "wholly avoidable tragedy".

He told Brown that his "cavalier attitude" to the dangers of carbon monoxide was reprehensible and impossible to comprehend.

The investigation found there had been a failure to properly secure a join in the flue system, which allowed carbon monoxide to leak into the apartment.

'Sheer laziness'

A section of the flue was completely separated, while the collar between two sections of the flue was not secured with screws to hold the joint in position.

The judge said the failure of the gas fitter or his employees to secure the boiler's flue pipe with four screws was "sheer laziness".

Brown, a father-of-two, had admitted causing the manslaughter of Mr McFerran and Mr Davidson on the grounds of gross negligence.

While he made the case that he did not personally install the boiler and flue, he accepted the supply and installation of the heating system was his responsibility.

He also admitted 19 other charges including health and safety breaches relating to work undertaken at the apartment in Castlerock, as well as defective workmanship carried out by both him and his employees in and around the greater Coleraine area.

For each of the 19 charges he was fined £1,000, and was given a year to pay the entire £19,000 penalty.

Media captionThe pair died after they were overcome by carbon monoxide from this unsecured pipe

'Shoddy workmanship'

The judge said that following the publicity surrounding the teenagers' deaths several people in the Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart areas who had work undertaken by Brown's business came forward.

Various safety breaches were discovered when these installations were examined.

The judge told the court that this highlighted a "litany of shoddy workmanship".

He said the publicity and subsequent investigations in other properties "may have saved other customers from death or serious injury."

Mr Justice Weir also told Brown that although his guilty pleas had saved the parents having to listen to "harrowing details", he had failed to readily admit his guilt, attempting at one stage to blame a carpenter for dislodging pipe work, and one of his own employees for the shoddy workmanship

The teenagers' parents were in court to witness Brown being jailed.

The judge spoke of the impact the deaths have had on the families concerned, telling the court: "They have been gravely and permanently affected by the loss and the near loss of their boys."

The gas fitter sat with his head down as the sentence was delivered.

Members of Aaron and Neil's families were too upset to speak to the media following the hearing.

Afterwards, Detective Chief Inspector Rachel Shields, praised the "bravery and the trust and confidence", the families had placed in the PSNI and the Health and Safety Executive.

Chief Inspector Shields said the case should also be a "timely reminder to all".

She said: "It is an issue that all households should be aware of and I would remind service providers who work with installing heating systems or maintaining heating systems of the legal requirements and responsibilities that govern this area of business."

Louis Burns of the Health and Safety Executive NI said: "His workmanship in relation to this case and the other cases we saw today was very shoddy.

"That's not to say he wasn't technically competent to install gas work, he was.

"He was Gas Safe registered, he had passed the exams, he was properly on the register, but in this case he wasn't properly qualified to work in the particular type of installation that he was working on and he shouldn't have worked on it.

"For me the significance of the sentence is that if you're prepared to do shoddy workmanship, if you're a gasman working outside your competence and a tragic incident like this happens, custodial sentences have now been given out in Northern Ireland."

More on this story