Wolverhampton waste worker crushed ‘within seconds’ after falling into industrial shredder, court hears
David Willis, 29, was crushed ‘within seconds’ after falling into an industrial shredder while trying to clear a blockage five years ago.
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A man employed by a waste company was crushed “within seconds” when he fell into an industrial shredder while attempting to clear a blockage. The remains of David Willis, 29, who worked for Timmins Waste Services (TWS) in Wolverhampton, were never recovered from the machine, designed to shred wood and commercial waste after the fatal fall on September 15, 2018.
TWS and yard manager Brian Timmins are facing trial on charges of "systemic failures" leading to Mr. Willis's death at Wolverhampton Crown Court. The waste company is charged with corporate manslaughter, while Timmins, of Fair Lawn, Albrighton, is charged with manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.
On Monday (November 13), the court heard that Timmins was operating the shredder at the company’s yard in Mander Street when it stopped “abruptly”. Prosecutor Christine Agnew KC told the jury that Timmins approached the machine to investigate and then used a digger to lift Mr Willis up on top of the shredder to work inside it, based on CCTV evidence.
She said: “Waste material can then be seen being ejected from the machine, demonstrating that the machine was still operational, still working whilst Mr Willis continued to work within. All of the guidance in relation to the operation of the shredder provided by the manufacturer stipulates that if someone is working inside the shredder it should be switched off.
“The reason is obvious – to avoid death or serious injury. It clearly was not switched off at the time David Willis was unblocking it.”
When Mr Willis vanishes into the machine, Timmins is observed on CCTV surveying the yard and inspecting the shredder's 'hopper,' which directs waste toward the machine's blades. Subsequently, he attempts to contact Mr Willis by calling his phone, but it does not connect. Ms Agnew said: "(It) does not connect. He looks out of the yard gates and then runs around the yard. He is almost certainly looking for Mr Willis. He must realise at that point that Mr. Willis has fallen inside the shredder."
Despite Timmins not locating Mr Willis, he reportedly returns to the digger and resumes operating the shredder. The following day, Timmins and other employees dispose of 80 tonnes of recycled waste at a landfill site in Cannock, Staffordshire, which Ms Agnew asserts "must" have included Mrs Willis's remains.
Ms Agnew argued that if basic industry-standard safety precautions had been in place, Mr. Willis would not have died. She told the jury: "The prosecution contends that there were systemic failures across the company’s approach to safety management, such as absent risk assessments, a failure to implement control measures, the absence of safe methods of working, working instructions, supervision, and training."
Mr Willis, who lived with his mother Caroline, was reported missing by her on the evening of September 15 when he did not return home to Tipton. When police attended the yard on Monday, September 17, CCTV footage showed that Mr Willis had fallen into the shredder, prompting a search of the landfill site in Cannock, and part of a tabard that may have belonged to him was discovered.
Timmins, currently on bail, presented himself in court wearing a grey suit and a blue striped tie. Ms Agnew noted that he acknowledges his role as a manager at TWS and concedes to consenting or conniving at the company's failure to ensure employee health and safety. However, he disputes that his actions were negligent or led to Mr Willis's death.
Furthermore, Timmins rejects the notion that he was "aware of what he had done" and disputes the claim that his subsequent actions were "designed to cover up his behaviour and pervert the course of justice."
The prosecutor also alleged that Timmins “knew that Mr Willis had died in the shredder; he knew that some sort of criminal investigation, or judicial proceedings were inevitable and he took active steps to interfere with evidence and to conceal the facts of the death”.
Ms Agnew clarified that there is no indication that Mr Willis was experiencing low spirits or wanting to end his life. She stressed that Mr Willis maintained a close relationship with his family and was described by them as being “happy and bubbly” the day before his death.
The trial, in front of Mr Justice Jacobs, which is scheduled to last for up to four weeks, continues.