Ram Brewery inquiry: report day12

Author: Julia Matcham

Friday 20th of Nov 09 at The Inquiry on DAY 12

Apparently the session had started at 9 am and I arrived at the time it was scheduled to start:10 am. It was eventually ‘adjourned’ at 1.30pm until next Tuesday, so anyone coming to the afternoon session as billed, from 2pm – 5pm’ would have found an empty hall. I guess that sort of thing is unavoidable but one could be forgiven for thinking that starting on Tuesday and either stopping early or missing out altogether the Friday session is very convenient for long weekends, even a City Break.

I have never been to one of these things before so this is an incoherent account of what seemed to be going on. The room was full of important looking persons.

On the stage were the two inspectors. To the right of them and at an angle was a table (also on stage) at which sat whoever was being currently grilled.

Off stage, to the left, side-on to the stage, were two rows of tables occupied by a united front of those in favour of the development. The three QC’s were side by side at the front, but most of the grilling was done by QC Neal Cameron for Minerva and a small amount by QC John Hobson for the Mayor of London.

Off stage to the right and facing the QCs were a similar number of persons (about 12) from Health and Safety team.

When I arrived, currently being grilled at the small table and looking a bit lonely was a representative of the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) Stewart Reston.

Everyone involved had about 4 huge folders of documents, the sort of size that you see when choosing your furnishing fabrics or carpet. So from the start it was clear that all I could do was to use my antennae to guess what they were on about.

Documents were constantly referred to (eg Doc. HSB Page 37 para 4.1); obviously these references were meaningless to local people attending with only a few hours to spare (although heaps of documents were on desks behind the public area). I am not saying that this can be helped, but that that is how it is.

Very fine tuning seemed to be the order of the day. Who exactly should be responsible for applying the Health and Safety rules. It sounded like the HSE felt the Council should have been more, or equally, responsible. It sounded like the Council were being blamed by the HSE for paying insufficient attention to Health & Safety (and hence the recall) while the Council were blaming HSE for not providing enough information.

None of this was crystal clear because it was peppered with references to documents.

Then there was a whole lot more paper shuffling and arguments about the difference between whether ‘due weight’ should be given (to H&S matters) or, ‘great weight’ as was evidently written on a different piece of paper! Gosh it was exciting. And then there a bit about ‘risk versus socio economic benefits’ which ought to have been interesting but wasn’t because it wasn’t really explored. Probably a lot of it was designed to remind the inspectors of points in the applicants favour (supposedly).

Then from QC John Hobson (for the Mayor of London) there was some argument about the validity of HSE recommendations.

It seemed to me the general idea, while subtly manifested, was to discredit the HSE.

As a relief came a change of scene; Stewart Reston was thanked, and a new witness was put ‘in the box’ ,that is, at the table. The new witness looked excitingly different from all the men in business suits. Dr Deaves (hope I have that right) has a beard and looked like a young version of Bernard Shaw. He was a chief engineer with safety and liability qualifications (and a lot more) and was called as an expert witness.

It became clear that he had written a document about which he was to be cross examined.

The subject was in particular the gasholder adjacent to the development and its potential for blowing up and causing at the worst a devastating fireball. Dr Deaves was not found wanting in the examination by QC Neil Cameron for Minerva. Dr Deaves knew how it all worked, exactly, and every circumstance that could happen, and the area of devastation that could occur were these various events to actually take place. He described the physics of the various possible accidents and gave a calm description of the serial failures that could happen and what it would lead to, and how many people would die instantly and the effects of flash fires. He knew the level of ‘societal risk’ there would be if the building went ahead. He knew the thickness of the walls of the rings of ‘our’ gasholder in comparison with others (no worse). He also knew the likelihood of an event was about 10 in 1 million (I hope I got that right).

QC Neil Cameron had evidently read Dr Deaves document with extreme thoroughness and was doing his best for an hour and a half to question every detail, including every turn of phrase, and possible implication. Dr Deaves appeared to be an un-perturbed, accurate, man of Science unburdened by any obligation to anything other than honesty!

The Inspectors diligently took note of every detail.

To be continued in our next…

Tuesday:

  1. Martin Linton will speak.
  2. Followed by Fr Deaves being cross examined again.
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2 thoughts on “Ram Brewery inquiry: report day12

  1. Julia has hit the nail on the head for how completely mind-boggling the Proofs of Evidence, and related questioning, in this area of HSE versus the council, Minerva, et al has been. I was not there today (Fri) but was on Tuesday,Wednesday & Thursaday.
    Just to explain a little more if I can…
    Mr Cameron is the barrister acting for Wandsworth Council. Dr Deaves is the council’s expert witness called to refute the HSE experts on all matters. Mr Camerons questioning of him today, thetrefore, was designed to bring out from Dr Deaves all the things the council (and Minerva et al) wanted him to say (sounds as if his paper might have been a bit too balanced). On Tuesday the HSE technical expert, Mr Williams, had given his evidence. He was then closely and hostilely questioned by the QC Mr Harris (Minerva) for two whole days (shows how important the issue is, but that is what Harris is being paid, handsomely, to do. Mr Williams gave a creditable performance. Everyone, including the inspectors I sensed, was feeling sorry that he had to put up with such a battering.
    The Inquiry was running late, hence the early start to get back on track. It sometimes finishes at a convenient moment rather than start a whole new line of questioning at the end of a session. It is necessary to read the updated timetable on the council’s web site, or hear from the Inspector on the day.

    Arguments about the wording of Planning Policies is always with us. 99% are open to interpretation. In this instance does ‘due weight’ mean ‘great weight’ and do either mean you must do something or can ignore the advice? Other Policies that say, for example, ‘enhance’ ‘will respect’ or ‘appropriate’ can mean anything you want, as we are finding out.

    It is not in dispute that the HSE can only advise not compel. It’s actually not in dispute that there is a ‘tolerable’ risk. (tolerable probably being the accepted term for 1:1,000,000 or whatever) All HSE are saying is that accidents do happen (2-3 serious ones a year) and no one can tell when the ‘one’ will occur so their advice is that it is unacceptable to place several hundreds of new people at (even a low) risk by sticking them in a glass-fronted tower next to the gasholder.
    The arguments are more to do with the accuracy of the data used to predict the consequences in a worse-case scenario. and what this would be. HSE are saying “very serious”. The others are trying to refute this.

    It would be nice if people would come to support the objectors to the scheme. Martin LInton on Tuesday 24th am. 10 am normal start. Wandsworth Society all day 26th. Individuals 27th .
    Capital Studios is the boarded up building on the corner of Armoury Way and Wandsworth Plain. There is a door in the hoardings.

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