Bereavement due to traumatic death

Michael - Interview 35

Age at interview: 52

Brief outline: In 2004 Michael's son, Lewis, was badly burnt. At the time he was working at a garage. Lewis died three days later. Michael and the other members of the family were devastated. Michael found most support from family, friends and through counselling.

Background: Michael is an engineering consultant. He is married and has 3 children (1 died). Ethnic background/nationality: White British

Audio & video

In 2004 Michael’s son, Lewis, was very badly burnt when working at a garage. Lewis, who was 18 years old, was an apprentice mechanic at the time. He had not been given any training in Health and Safety. The manager had asked Lewis to pour some mixed fuel into a tank, which had a small four inch opening. It was windy, and Lewis’s overalls were soon covered in fuel. Some of the fuel vapour was sucked into a nearby gas flue, where it ignited and caused an explosion. Lewis was badly burnt and taken to hospital, where he had many hours of surgery, including skin grafts. Three days later, Michael and his wife were called to the hospital to see Lewis. His internal organs had failed and he was on life support machines. After a while Michael’s wife made the decision that the machines should be turned off and Lewis was pronounced dead.
Michael and the family were devastated by what had happened. Lewis’s funeral was held in a small church and was very well attended. Lewis was cremated and his remains buried in the cemetery.
The police, together with Health and Safety, started an investigation into the cause of the explosion and fire. Twelve months later they brought Lewis’s employer and manager to court. The owner of the garage and the manager were charged with manslaughter. The manager was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison. The owner was fined £10,000 and had to pay £15,000 costs.
Three months later the manager of the garage appealed his conviction. The appeal court judges ruled in his favour and said that he was not guilty of manslaughter because at the original trial some of the evidence was inadmissible. No one had actually witnessed the explosion, and when the owner and manager spoke to the police about what had happened they were not cautioned or told that anything they said might be used as evidence in court. Michael felt very angry about this reversal of the verdict and he felt that the legal system had let them down.
Michael got in touch with the Centre for Corporate Accountability, a charity concerned with the promotion of worker and public safety. Its focus is on the role of state bodies in enforcing health and safety law, investigating work-related deaths and injuries, and subjecting them to proper and appropriate prosecution scrutiny. Michael also got in touch with The Hazards Campaign who put him in touch with Families Against Corporate Killers, FACK. Michael now works hard to try to prevent other work related deaths. He finds it helpful meeting others who are also working to change what happens at work.
Michael had support from members of the wider family. Michael and his wife and daughter also had professional counselling, at different times, to help them with their grief. This was arranged by the NHS. Michael found counselling helpful, partly because he had found it hard to express his grief when talking to his wife and family. The family liaison officer was also very helpful. Michael also met a spiritualist, who helped him. He believes that Lewis is still around.
Michael was interviewed in 2009.


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