In 2019, John Mackay and Tommy Williams were contracted by Essex-based demolition company John F Hunt Regeneration Limited to demolish three ammonia washers at the former SSI Steelworks, which was being demolished to make way for Teesworks, the UK’s largest freeport, and one of the government’s flagship ‘levelling up’ projects.
John was removing an inspection cover on one of the washers using a hammer, mallet and an oxyacetylene torch. Tommy then pushed a hatch into the washer.
On 19 September 2019, thick black smoke was seen two kilometres away, and five seconds later there was an explosion. Both John and Tommy were killed.
The site was, and continues to be, an upper-tier Control of Major Accidents and Hazards (COMAH) site, making it one of the most dangerous industrial sites in the country.
A previous ENDS investigation revealed that the site suffered repeated operational failures at the hands of the government, which seemingly went unnoticed by the regulators entrusted to keep the people and the environment around it safe.
‘Flying by the seats of our pants’: Why did two men die at one of England’s most highly regulated environmental hazard sites?
Ann Mackay, the wife of the late John Mackay, previously told ENDS that her husband and Tommy had been told that the washers, which had been out of service since the 1970s, contained “debris and rain water rather than chemicals”. ENDS understands that who told them this was the crux of the police investigation.
Almost exactly four years after the men died, the HSE has announced that following a “thorough joint investigation by Cleveland Police and HSE, there is insufficient evidence to support gross or corporate manslaughter charges.”
As such, HSE will be leading the criminal investigation with the support of Cleveland Police.
HSE principal inspector John Heslop said: “Although some of these developments are difficult for the families of John and Tom, I have assured them that the criminal investigation into their deaths remains ongoing. We also made it clear our investigation will be a thorough one, while also recognising the desire for a speedy conclusion.”
In a statement, Ann Mackay said: “After four very long difficult emotional and stressful years we are very upset, angry, disappointed and confused as to why it’s taken four years for the police to hand over primacy to the HSE. And now, who knows how long it will take for us to discover who really is responsible and who will be held accountable for the loss of two hard working men’s lives. We just feel no one really cares and their deaths have been swept under the carpet.”