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Watney Market sewer deaths

Watney Market sewer deaths

Event  From 22/9/1990  To 22/9/1990

Categories: Tragedy

Initially we could find very little information about the event in which these 3 men died. From Labour Net: "Fellow worker Paul Barker (aged 20) was the only one of the four to survive the hydrogen sulphide gas in the sewer. At the court case the Magistrate had asked the company what safety equipment they had. “None” he said “not even a rope”."

John Davis sent us a page from The Daily Hazard, No. 29, December 1990 and there is additional information at Hackney Union News, November/December 1990. These sources tell the shocking story of the deaths. Residents and traders of Watney Market had complained repeatedly to Tower Hamlets Council about a smell and bad drainage. The council could find nothing so employed Floyd Construction of Hackney Road to investigate.

Four workers arrived and when they could not resolve the problem from the surface one of them entered the sewer access. When he didn’t return two more entered. And when they also did not return the fourth entered but was overcome by fumes (but it sounds like he did return). Onlookers called the fire brigade who, using breathing apparatus, retrieved the three remaining in the sewer. That was on a Saturday and by the following Monday all three had died. The fourth, Paul Barker, survived suspected hydrogen sulphide poisoning.

It seems that the workers had no protective clothing or special equipment, which suggests they were untrained and inexperienced. The Hackney Union News names the directors of the company. According to Companies House the company, Floyd Construction (London) Limited, was incorporated on 3 December 1981 and was dissolved on 24 September 2004.

Construction News reports the evidence given at the May 1991 inquest.  The East London Advertiser reporting on a commemoration in 2012: "The sewer tragedy led to protests after the east London construction company involved was fined just £50,000. At the time, the boys’ father Derek Richardson called for criminal charges. It led to the national Construction Safety Campaign which fought to get Corporate Manslaughter legislation passed in 2007."

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Watney Market sewer deaths

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Watney Market sewer deaths

The plaque refers to the men being overcome by fumes while "working in this b...

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