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Inquest rules that significant failings by William Hill and Acean Builders caused the death of Jacob Marx

News | Tue 20th Jan, 2015

The inquest into the death of Jacob Marx has ruled that significant failures in communication and project management by William Hill and Acean Builders caused the 27 year old lawyer’s death in January 2013.  Mr Marx was killed as he walked along Camden High Street when a 30ft sign from the William Hill betting shop fell on him.  The victim was originally from New Zealand and had moved to London 4 months prior to the accident with his girlfriend Natalie Chung.

The Inquest considered the fitting and maintenance of the sign and who was responsible for the failings which led to Mr Marx’s death.  The sign in question had been replaced following a major refurbishment of the shop in 2006.  The sign weighed approximately a third of a tonne and replaced a lighter sign as part of this refurbishment.  The new sign was attached to a plywood sub- fascia which had originally been put up in 1999 using simple panel pins rather than proper fixing screws.  In addition, it was not properly waterproofed.  In consequence, the sign was inadequately secured. Mr. Steven Simmons-Jacobs, Health and Safety Inspector who reviewed the site, told the inquest that the sign could have could have fallen down “at any time”.

The question of who was responsible for this highly unfortunate accident was complicated by a number of subcontractors involved in the fitting and maintenance.  William Hill had contracted the refurbishment to Acean Builders but contracted the process of replacing the sign to a specialist sign fitters, Saltwell Signs. Maintenance of the sign was subsequently contracted to Cygnia Maintenance Limited.  This led to a number of attempts by the parties to pass the blame on to each other.

William Hill sought to blame the main contractors, Acean and the sign fitters. They also argued that Cygnia had failed to maintain the site properly.  Acean argued that the original contract had been varied with the result that the requirement to check the sub- fascia was removed from the contract. They also blamed the sign fitters, Saltwell, for not detecting that the sub-fascia was insecure. Saltwell contended that they were entitled to assume that the sub- fascia was sound and that it was not their job to check.  Cygnia argued that their maintenance duties were limited to checking the sign itself and not how the sign was affixed to the wall.

The jury pointed the finger at William Hill and the main contractors, Acean.  It unanimously concluded that despite William Hill having systems in place above the usual standard there was a lack of oversight and “there were deficiencies in communication and project management between William Hill and Acean Builders. Overall there was a lack of defined responsibilities [and] adequate checklists.”

Mr Marx’s family released a statement after the inquest saying that “It has become apparent during the course of the inquest that there were significant failings surrounding the William Hill sign.

We have been disappointed by the apparent lack of regulation, structured training, or even guidance in the sign fixing industry and we call on those authorities with the ability to do so, to institute measures to try and prevent such a tragedy ever occurring again.”

Vince Williams was instucted by Leigh Day & Co and acted for the family of the deceased in this inquest, which took place over five days at St Pancras Coroner’s Court before a Coroner and jury.

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