Director of Barking based storage company ‘not criminally culpable’ for worker’s death, court hears

Han Rao has been found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. Picture: Jon King

Han Rao has been found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. Picture: Jon King - Credit: Archant

A company director is not criminally culpable for the death of a warehouseman crushed to death at work, a court heard.

Marian Iancu died at TLW (UK) Ltd's premises in Renwick Road, Barking in November 2015 while trying to dispose of panes of glass weighing 200kg each.

When the "hardworking" 39-year old Romanian undid two damaged window panels they toppled on top of him, breaking seven ribs, suffocating him and causing damage to his liver, spleen and heart lining.

TLW boss Han Rao, 34, of Deptford, denies manslaughter by gross negligence and breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. TLW denies failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees.

On the seventh day of Mr Rao's Old Bailey trial on Tuesday, January 28, defence barrister Graham Trembath QC told jurors the fatal accident "was a disaster waiting to happen".

Mr Trembath described "a grey area" existing between Mr Rao and the multi-million pound global skyscraper facade firm Yuanda which had only a verbal agreement with the 34-year old "one man band" to store windows meant for Leadenhall Street's Cheesegrater building.

A written contract between Mr Rao and Yuanda would have provided "clear" dividing lines and understanding as to where responsibility lay when it came to the storage facility and what would happen there, he added.

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It is not known whether Yuanda undertook due diligence in respect of Mr Rao, the facility or the job, the court heard. Mr Rao was "nominally" the manager at the Barking warehouse where Yuanda also kept staff, jurors heard. TLW was not making a profit.

Marian was doing the task with one workmate when six workers were needed, jurors heard previously.

An upright frame, known as a stillage, which the glass was attached to when delivered to Barking was "defective", falling below industry standards, Mr Trembath said.

"Fatally defective" stillages were "littered" throughout TLW's yard, jurors heard.

"Whose stillages were they?" Mr Trembath asked. "I'm not trying to apportion blame. I'm simply hoping to produce a matrix of circumstances that go to show that the prosecution have not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Han Rao is criminally culpable."

It is not "crystal clear" when the stillage became defective or who was responsible, the court heard.

"The sad fact is that if that stillage which so fatally and horribly crushed that poor man had not been defective he would be alive today," Mr Trembath said.

The "heart" of the case is who told Marian to carry out the task, Mr Trembath said. His co-worker, a Romanian national, told the court previously that Mr Rao asked them to do the job.

But language barriers between Mr Rao, a Chinese national, and his Romanian workers may have resulted in them misunderstanding their boss, who claims he told them not to carry out the task, jurors heard.

On why Mr Rao didn't tell his wife there had been a fatal accident at work, Mr Trembath said she didn't need to know, being at home alone with the couple's two young children.

On a site visit the day Marian died, witness Ralf Rottele asked the workers who told them to do the job and they replied Mr Rao. He told them to stop.

But when interviewed, Mr Trembath asked why Mr Rottele did not share that information with the police.

Differences between Mr Rottele's court appearance and witness statement were "perfectly human" for a man who was "in deep shock" following the accident, jurors heard.

Mr Trembath - responding to the prosecution's claim Mr Rao asked Marian to do the job to curry favour with Yuanda - asked why he would want his employees to do a task meant to be undertaken by Yuanda.

"Sometimes when something dreadful happens, a tragic fatality such as this, there's a human need to apportion blame. If you stand back and consider this case objectively you will arrive at the safe, just and proper verdict," Mr Trembath told jurors.

The trial continues.