Multitude of errors linked to hotel gas death

A "perfect storm" of factors relating to ventilation and unsealed ducting allowed poisonous gases to rise into a Co Cork hotel room where a woman died, the defence lawyer for a plumber on trial for manslaughter claimed yesterday.

Richard Davis, aged 46, Serenity, Killanully, Ballygarvan, Co Cork, is on trial for the manslaughter of Miriam Reidy and two breaches of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

His company, Davis Heating and Plumbing Contractors, of Marina Commercial Park in Cork, is charged with two similar breaches of the safety act relating to the conversion of a gas boiler at the Trident Hotel, Kinsale, on January 4, 2011. All charges are denied.

Defence SC Michael O’Higgins cross-examined Cormac Leenane, a civil engineer, who was called as an expert witness by the prosecution.

Mr O’Higgins suggested that the manner in which expelled gas from the downstairs boiler area circulated back, not only returning but then feeding up through vertical service ducts overhead, caused the gases to rise to bedrooms in the hotel. Counsel said a smoke test in the aftermath of the fatality demonstrated that the carbon monoxide from the boiler rose through the service ducts.

Mr Leenane agreed it did not just drift up but was sucked up.

Mr O’Higgins stated there was, in effect, a build-up of dead air because of what he claimed was the fact that a ventilation fan in the attic of the hotel was not working, although he accepted that this would be a matter for the jury to determine.

Mr O’Higgins further suggested to the expert witness if the fan had been working it would have expelled all harmful gases out of the building.

Mr Leenane replied: “Maybe not all.”

Mr O’Higgins said it would have extracted most of them, adding: “That was yet another ingredient in the perfect storm, or the last straw, but was another factor in the gases accumulating.”

The defence lawyer said if construction work at the hotel had been undertaken in the way it should have been, there would have been a dedicated ventilation shaft. He said that, in fact, the fire officer had been assured it would be part of the structure.

Mr Leenane replied: “Ideally yes.”

Dr Cornie Visagie, who attended at the Trident Hotel to help aid the late Ms Reidy and her sister when they became ill, and also attended to other guests, stated he thought at the time that the cases might have been connected by a virus or food poisoning.

He said there was no gas smell and he did not think, for a second, gas was the source of the problems.

Dr Richard Siddons, engineer and expert in carbon monoxide poisoning, testified yesterday that Mr Davis did not complete the stipulated conversion process on a boiler by failing to make the necessary adjustments.

The trial continues on Monday.


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