John Lewis, trading as John Lewis Plant Hire and Contracts, has been sentenced at Laganside Crown Court. He received a suspended six month sentence on each of the five counts he pleaded guilty to.

The case arose after the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) visited a demolition site on the Broadway Industrial Estate following a complaint from the general public. In February 2011, they found a building that was in the process of being demolished, and immediately stopped the work due to concerns about asbestos contamination.

A subsequent survey of the site by HSENI's Scientific Services found large quantities of asbestos insulating board and asbestos cement debris present on the ground and amongst building rubble in an area where demolition work was in progress at the site. The same contractor had previously been stopped in 2008, whilst in the process of demolishing other similar buildings on the site without having an asbestos survey carried out.

Following that intervention, Mr Lewis had a survey of all the buildings compiled, including the building he was demolishing in 2011. The investigation revealed he had this asbestos survey in his possession, which clearly showed that the building he was demolishing contained significant asbestos which required a licensed asbestos contractor to remove. Mr Lewis was not a licensed asbestos contractor.

To make matters worse, employees of John Lewis were found on the site of the partial demolition picking pieces of asbestos out of the contaminated rubble without appropriate protection, such as respiratory equipment and showering facilities.

After the hearing Mr Louis Burns, Principal Inspector for theĀ HSENI's Major Investigation Team said, “The dangers of asbestos are well known. It is vital that buildings are properly surveyed for asbestos and that asbestos is removed by a licensed asbestos contractor prior to demolition. If these vital steps are not followed there is the potential for asbestos to be released and spread in an uncontrolled manner. This potentially gives rise to serious health concerns.”

For more information, see the:

  • Control of Asbestos Regulations (Northern Ireland) SR 2012/179.