Openreach engineer, 32, slipped and was swept to his death trying to fix phone line across river as firm is fined £1.3million for failing to ensure his safety

Openreach engineer, 32, slipped and was swept to his death trying to fix phone line across river as firm is fined £1.3million for failing to ensure his safety

  • Alun Owen had drowned in October 2020 at the River Aber, near Bangor 

An Openreach engineer had slipped and was swept to his death when trying to fix a phone line, a court has heard.

Alun Owen, 32, a devoted father of twins, aged five, had drowned in October 2020 at the River Aber, near Bangor. 

Llandudno Magistrates’ Court heard how Mr Owen was working alone when he decided to attach a phone line to a hammer and throw it across the river before making the reconnection.

As he entered the very high and fast-flowing water, a nearby householder told him: ‘Just leave it, the repair isn’t important.’

But Mr Owen attempted to get the job done and entered the river as another neighbour shouted: ‘Don’t do that.’, before he slipped and was swept away.

Openreach pleaded guilty to to breaching health and safety laws for staff working near water and were fined £1.34m by district judge Gwyn Jones on Wednesday. 

Emergency services at the scene as a huge search was launched after the Openreach engineer was swept away by the river

Prosecutor Nathan Cook, for the Health and Safety Executive, said Openreach failed to provide sufficient instruction and training about the risks of working around water and had allowed Mr Owen to work alone.

Openreach had a computer training course but it wasn’t mandatory for staff to complete, the court heard.

The Communication Workers Union had felt the course was essential.

Mr Cook said: ‘At the time of Alun’s accident 518 Openreach engineers had completed the course working on or near water. There are around 25,000 Openreach engineers.’

Mr Owen’s widow Ceri, a teacher, read a heartrending impact statement to the court. She said: ‘The loss of Alun has caused severe upset and trauma for the whole family.’

Defence KC Dominic Kay said the company expressed ‘genuine and sincere remorse’ to the family. ‘Alun was a very well-respected and popular member of his team,’ counsel remarked.

District judge Gwyn Jones ordered Openreach to pay £16,000 costs.

He said: ‘The fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence and take into account the financial circumstances of the company. The punishment that the court has imposed will not take away the pain and trauma suffered by the family of Alun Owen.

‘Alun was a much-loved husband, father, son, brother, friend and colleague to many. Words can’t express the continuing pain which the family and friends will suffer for many years.

‘All this case does is bring an end to one chapter in this very sad case. Health and safety are matters taken seriously by the company.’

Emergency service workers attended the incident after Mr Owen decided to attach a phone line to a hammer and throw it across the river before making the reconnection

Mr Owen’s family said after the case: ‘This has been an extremely long and painful journey for the family. Whilst we acknowledge Openreach have pleaded guilty today, that plea, put in simple terms, is a carefully measured damage-limitation exercise triggered by the overwhelming evidence levied against them.

‘There was never any doubt that Openreach were entirely culpable for causing Al’s death – a death that was preventable and a death that resulted in the loss of a precious and cherished member of the family, who was also dearly treasured by his wide circle of friends.

‘Openreach displayed a lethargic approach to and a lack of investment in appropriate training and equipment for their employees whilst working near water, demonstrating a total disregard towards the safety of their workforce.

‘The grief of the family intensified after learning Openreach did have specialist resources that could have been deployed to assess and respond to this reported fault in Abergwyngregyn on the 6th of October 2020, without having to put the lives of others at risk. Openreach chose not to. That decision is indefensible.

‘Furthermore, the investigation instigated by North Wales Police and subsequently finalised by the Health and Safety Executive unearthed other flagrant risks, concealed within Openreach operating practices, that also exposed their employees to additional danger. That lethargy by Openreach to address these sorts of issues subjected their workforce to unnecessary peril and ultimately cost Al his life.

‘What is extremely disappointing, throughout the years that have passed, is Openreach displaying a total lack of empathy towards the family when attempting to address some of their shortcomings after Al’s death. That is inexcusable.

‘We make it perfectly clear that no financial penalty will afford us with any sense of justice here, particularly when considered against the financial buoyancy of Openreach.

Openreach pleaded guilty to failing to ensure Mr Owen's safety and were fined £1.34m by district judge Gwyn Jones at Llandudno Magistrates' Court (pictured)

‘The fine imposed is inconsequential and does not diminish the pain, nor does it lessen the void that has been left since Al was taken away from us. We recognise that Openreach have now been forced to address some of their health and safety inadequacies, hopefully ensuring that no other family endures the pain and distress that has been caused by Al’s death.

‘The only positive note that we can take away from this tragic event, is the strength that we found in the support, compassion and empathy from family, friends and indeed the broader community – which continues to this very day and is heartfelt and welcome.

‘The genuine love and affection shown to us since the tragedy that unfolded on the 6th of October 2020 is a real testimony to Al and how everyone just loved his friendly, loving and selfless character.

‘Although it’s sometimes difficult to see beyond the sorrow, we will keep his memory alive through reminiscing those many precious moments he had in his love-filled life.’ 

An Openreach spokesperson said: ‘Nothing can ever make up for the loss of Alun. He was a very well-respected and popular colleague, and the impact of his death remains significant and is felt directly by people across Openreach. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

‘As an organisation, we accept that we could’ve done more to make sure our engineers had the right guidance, processes and training when working on, or near, water. We’re very sorry that we fell short of the required standards, and we deeply regret the loss of Alun, as well as the impact on his family, friends and colleagues.

‘The safety of our entire workforce, customers and the public remains our priority, and we’re working hard to make sure something like this never happens again.’

Frankie Elliott

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