A police officer and his partner fell 20 feet to their deaths through a building site hoarding when they fought with eachother after a night out.
The old plywood barrier collapsed as PC Gavin Brewer, 32, and broadcast engineer Stuart Meads, 34, fell against them during the scuffle.
The pair suffered ‘catastrophic head injuries’ when they plunged head-first through a light well onto the concrete floor below in Hampstead, northwest London.
Mr Brewer, who was studying for his sergeant’s exam with the British Transport Police, and Mr Meads, who was also a musician, were pronounced dead when paramedics arrived at 2.45am.
Prosecutor Oliver Glasgow QC said the hoardings at the site on the corner of Hampstead Road and Netley Street were not of ‘sufficient height or strength’ to protect members of the public.
‘Rather than an appropriate barrier, it was old plywood panels nailed together to make a hoarding, and makeshift wooden props to keep them in place,’ he said.
The firm responsible, Monavon Construction Limited, admitted corporate manslaughter and a health and safety breach.
The court heard that during the week the barrier was being constructed there were times the light well was left completely unprotected – despite its close proximity to a primary school.
Up to 200 people passed the site every day they and on the day before the accident a child was captured on CCTV peering into the void.
The victims’ family members left court in tears as CCTV footage of the moments before the deaths of the two men was played in court.
They had struggled together as they walked up Hampstead Road before turning into Netley Street at 2.20am.
‘As the two men approached the hoarding, one apparently pushes the other,’ he said.
‘Both fall into the boards and the board immediately gives way, causing both men to topple head-first into the light well.
‘Police arrived a few minutes later. It was immediately apparent both men were dead when they were looked at.’
Mr Glasgow said the cause of death in each case was ‘head and spinal’ injuries while a toxicology report found both men had been drinking.
Family members returned to court and some sobbed as Marian Brewer said: ‘My love, my life, my son. Gone in a breath.’
‘I am the mum of our beautiful son Gavin, who is sadly no longer with us as he died in horrendous circumstances,’ said the mum-of-three in a victim impact statement.
‘My life was perfect until that fateful day when there was a knock on our door.’
Mrs Brewer said the news had ‘destroyed’ the lives of husband Robin, children Jason and Michelle, and grandson Josh.
She added: ‘I keep expecting him to walk through the door but it’s not to be because I saw his mangled, broken body and his skull crushed.’
Mr Meads, who worked for BBC’s ‘The Weakest Link’ and his partner had been on a night out on Friday 18 October.
‘The two had been out for an evening together and for reasons that have never become clear, it seems they were in a dispute with each other,’ said the prosecutor.
In the aftermath of their deaths, devastated friends laid floral tributes at the scene of the fall, at 107-109 Hampstead Road, with some blaming their deaths on a ‘freak accident’.
Monavon Construction Limited, based in Thorold Road, Bounds Green, pleaded guilty to two counts of corporate manslaughter and one charge of a breach of a general duty to other than employee, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The firm, run by brothers Michael and Ian McGowan was fined £550,000 – a sum that will put the company out of business.
‘I take the view that this was such a serious breach and so potentially serious to the public, leading as it did, to the destruction of two young lives and effectively the families of those who were involved,’ said Judge Paul Worsley QC.
‘As this was not, in my judgement, an isolated incident but an ongoing situation, the court must mark this with fines I accept are very heavy.’
Monavan Construction Limited must pay the fine, along with more than £23,000 in costs within two years.
The judge said: ‘In my judgement the defendants had put into position an accident waiting to happen.
‘It was not only tragic, it was wholly preventable. The defendants were or should have been aware of the clear risk of death were the whole to be left uncovered and the barrier boarding to be inadequate,’ said the judge.
‘There was at the time no covering of any sort over the hole and the construction of the barrier was completely inadequate.
‘It is indeed criminal negligence in every sense of that expression.’
He continued: ‘It is trite to say nothing can restore these two young men to their families and friends.
‘No one should think for a moment, least of all the families, that the courts are placing a financial value on the lives of these young men cruelly cut short.’
The judge said the failure to cover the hole was ‘unforgivable’, adding: ‘The case is not only tragic because of the death of two young men but because of the risks to which the public were also exposed.’
Mr Brewer’s ‘proud father’ Robin said he was ‘totally devastated’ by the loss of his son.
‘I will never, ever forgive you for the loss of my son Gavin,’ he said in a victim impact statement.
‘I am a broken man who had a wonderful family life and because of your incompetence my world has been broken.
Mr Meads’ father Steve said his son, a member of the synth-pop band Trademark, had been planning on releasing another album.
He said Stewart was ‘loved by everyone’ and was ‘happy and living life to the fullest’.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, for the company, said the firm had never been convicted of any health and safety breaches in the 33 years since it was founded by the directors’ father.
He said: ‘Expressions of sorrow, of regret and the like sound hollow and they lead understandably to the question in the families, “why wasn’t more done by the company concerned to prevent tragedies of this sort?”
‘They are extremely sorry. They haven’t suffered as the families have. They can’t imagine the pain they have caused.
‘But the McGowan family will never be able to forget the events of 19 October 2013, they will never forget what happened and nor will they forget it was their failings that caused these two deaths. It was their fault.’
The QC added: ‘The company got things dreadfully wrong. There was a very serious error of judgement but it was not a case where the risk had not been identified or ignored.’
The court heard the family firm has an annual turnover of around £500,000, with assets of just over £400,000.
But Mr Laidlaw said the company has a £141,000 overdraft and only makes around £20,000 annual profit, with its directors taking home a salary of £24,000 each.
He said any fine more than £100,000 or so would finish the firm..