Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme worker was second brother to die in boat tragedy

The brother of a Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme worker who died after a boat capsized on the River Aire has said safety failings meant it was a "disaster waiting to happen."

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 8:21 am

Experienced bargemaster Gary Webster, 60, who died in Leeds October 2017, was the second brother from a large family of boatmen from Hull to suffer fatal injuries while working on waterways in Yorkshire.

Father-of-three Mr Webster died in hospital two days after he was rescued from the River Aire at Stourton after the makeshift safety boat he was in capsized.

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Gary Webster

Gary Webster's 53-year-old brother John died in an accident on a boat at Hull Dock in 2005.

Gary rescued John from the water and tried to revive him.

In October 2017, Gary Webster and another worker had tried to retrieve a propane gas cylinder from turbulent waters in front of a 2.6m high weir cascade in the River Aire at Thwaite Mills.

An inquest jury returned a narrative conclusion at last month's inquest, which heard he wasn't given instructions on how to safely carry out the task and there was no formal risk assessment.

Mr Webster's brother Robert, 68, of Hull said: "Gary lost his life needlessly in our opinion. The narrative verdict proved that.

"It was an accident that shouldn't have happened. People didn't follow the basic rules.

"They have got a duty to safeguard people at work and there was no risk assesment. It was a disaster waiting to happen and it shouldn't have happened."

Leeds City Council awarded a contract to construct the flood alleviation scheme to a joint venture between BAM Nuttall Ltd and Mott MacDonald, known as BMMjv.

Contractor Mr Webster was working on the final stages of commissioning works on the Knostrop Weir scheme on Monday October 30 2017, which had officially opened 26-days earlier.

Senior coroner Kevin McLoughlin issued a regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths after last month's inquest.

Paying tribute to his brother, Robert Webster said: "He was larger than life and had lots of friends.There were more than 400 people at his funeral."

Robert Webster, who also works as a bargemaster, said the Webster family had worked on boats dating back to the 1820s.

He said Gary was from a family of three sisters and seven brothers - six of whom had worked on boats.

He said Gary was working with his brother John, 53, when he died in an accident at Hull Dock in 2005.

He said John slipped on a ladder on the deck of a boat and fell in the water.

Gary rescued John and tried to revive him, but he had suffered a broken neck.

Mr Webster said an accidental death verdict was recorded after an inquest into John's death at Hull Coroner's Court.

The boat Gary was in capsized in front of one of three new gates installed as part of the joint Leeds City Council and Environment Agency £45m flood alleviation scheme at Knostrop Weir.

The second man got to safety, but Mr Webster was in the water for 15 minutes before being rescued just after 12.30pm.

Gary Webster was taken to Leeds General Infirmary where he died two days later as a result of multiple organ failure, cardiac arrest and cold water immersion.

The inquest jury concluded that the small flat bottomed boat built by the contractor for welding jobs was not intended for use as a safety boat.

They ruled Mr Webster, of Hull, was not formally authorised to operate it and was not trained to operate it in turbulent water.

Senior coroner Kevin McLoughlin has sent a regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths to BAM Nuttall Ltd and BMM jv Ltd.

Mr McLoughlin wrote: "Such an approach to inherently hazardous tasks gives rise to the risk that another death may occur in the organisations named due to inadequate planning procedures."

After the inquest, Steve Fox, BAM Nuttall’s chief executive officer, said on behalf of the company and BMM jv Ltd: “Gary Webster was a well-respected and experienced colleague, who is sadly missed.

"Our thoughts remain with his family and friends following the conclusion of the coroner’s inquest.

"We will reply in full to the coroner’s report and remain committed to supporting the ongoing HSE investigation into his death.”

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spokeswoman said it would not comment as the case is still under investigation by the HSE.