Plumber cleared of manslaughter in gas leak case

A tragic story that began with a plumber working on a hotel gas boiler, followed days later by the death by carbon monoxide poisoning of a woman, ended yesterday with a jury finding the plumber and his company not guilty.

Richard Davis, aged 46, from Serenity, Killanully, Ballygarvan, Co Cork, was found not guilty at Cork Circuit Court before Judge Seán O Donnabháin of the manslaughter of Miriam Reidy, 35, and two counts under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Davis’s company, Davis Heating and Plumbing Contractors of Marina Commercial Park in Cork, was found not guilty of two similar health and safety act counts relating to the conversion of a gas boiler at the Trident Hotel on Jan 4, 2011. The jury deliberated for four and a half hours before returning with five not-guilty verdicts.

Defence senior counsel Michael O’Higgins claimed several other design and construction issues in the hotel and other matters that pre-dated the installation of the gas boiler were responsible for the poisonous carbon monoxide not disappearing harmlessly into the sky.

Prosecution senior counsel Brendan Grehan claimed Mr Davis incorrectly converted a gas boiler, leaving it spewing out lethal quantities of carbon monoxide.

Mr Davis had gone to the hotel on January 4, 2011 to put a new boiler into use, converting it to allow for use with liquid petroleum gas rather than natural gas by the insertion of a chip. The prosecution claimed he did insert a chip, but it would appear he never read the guidelines that came with the chip; did not carry out any adjustment to the boiler; and did not test it afterwards for a possible leak.

Members of the Reidy family attended the trial and gave evidence. Patricia Reidy-Russell told how she and her sister shared a room at the hotel that night.

They had been at a hen night and most of the group were partying until about 5am. However, Miriam and Patricia left at about 1am, walking back to their hotel. They both became ill and Patricia called a doctor, who treated them for the winter vomiting bug. Pathologist Margaret Bolster testified that the first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning were more or less the same as those for flu or cold.

Miriam died in the hotel room. Patricia woke a couple of days later in the intensive care unit of Cork University Hospital.

She said: “I tried so hard to save her... but the efforts I made were not enough.”

Mr Davis did not give evidence but his interviews with gardaí were read to the jury. In these, he said: “I am sick to my stomach that it happened. I was told it was an easy chip conversion... [that] all I needed to do was change the chip. If there was any more I wouldn’t have touched it.”

‘She was a beam of light in all our lives’

By Liam Heylin

The family of the Limerick woman who died from carbon monoxide poisoning at the Trident Hotel almost four years ago were extremely disappointed at the outcome of the 12-day trial yesterday, at which plumber Richard Davis was cleared of manslaughter.

Siobhán Barrett, sister of Ms Reidy, thanked the gardaí and the HSA for their thorough investigation into the case.

“This has been a very long and difficult journey for us... since January 9, 2011,” she said. “We are extremely disappointed with the outcome. We live with this heartache every day.

“We are extremely saddened that Miriam never got the opportunity to live her life to her dreams.

“She was a kind, gentle, caring and loving person. Full of poise, grace, patience, humility and sincerity; she was a beam of light in all our lives.

“As sisters, we were very close, living near each other and talking on the phone every other day. As a daughter, Miriam had a great relationship with mam and dad and visited every Sunday for lunch. Miriam was so looking forward to moving into her new home with her boyfriend in May 2011; getting married and building a new life with him.

“The shock on hearing the news on Sunday, January 9, 2011 has left its mark. The fear that grabs hold when you receive that awful news about your loved one. It is difficult to watch our parents trying to piece their lives back together.

“For dad, he thinks of her first thing in the morning and last thing at night. This should be a happy time in their lives, enjoying their children and their grandchildren but this has all been stolen from them.

Her other sister, Patricia Reidy-Russell, added: “It breaks my heart to know that I did everything I possibly could but it just wasn’t enough.

“It breaks my heart to know my little daughter will never know what a beautiful wonderful person Auntie Miriam was.”

Defence solicitor Val Turnbull said, “Richard does not wish to make any formal statement out of respect to the late Miriam Reidy and her family.”

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