“Shock, pain, anger, it has taken over our lives” - families of men killed in factory explosion describe three year ordeal
- Credit: Archant
Three years ago an explosion tore through a Norwich factory, killing two men.
They were both fathers, brothers, sons and partners - and two families have been consumed in the fallout ever since.
Only last month their employer was fined £145,000 over the deaths of Barry Joy and Daniel Timbers at the Harford Attachments factory on Spar Road on July 15, 2015.
Company director Steve Kidd had admitted two breaches of health and safety practices, which meant the explosion had become almost inevitable.
At the time two father and son pairs were working at the factory.
Barry Joy and Nick Timbers were experienced paint sprayers for digger buckets, and had both secured jobs there for their sons; Charlie and Dan.
July 15 was a Monday and Nick Timbers was off work. Dan, 28, was covering for him, working alongside Mr Joy, 56.
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They worked in a booth bought from RAF Lyneham, which had no risk assessment completed, and a highly flammable 205 litre drum of paint thinners and solvents inside.
The drum, Norwich Crown Court heard last month, 'became a bomb' due to multiple sources of ignition in the area.
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Charlie was working elsewhere in the factory when it went off.
'It must have happened around 9.20am when we heard a massive bang,' he said. 'Nobody thought anything about it because buckets used to fall all the time. I just thought it was that - then the fire alarm went off.
'Everyone was telling us to get out. We could see the fire through the door but I didn't think there was anyone in there at all.
'Obviously I got really upset and really panicky. They did a register and there were two people missing.'
Dan's mum, Gail Hill, was on the first day of her holiday when she got a call from her daughter, Michelle.
'She tried to tell me something had gone wrong with Dan over the phone, but she couldn't,' she said.
'Michelle and Ashley both walked in and were crying so much. They said there had been an explosion and two bodies were missing.
'Obviously we didn't know at the time. We just had to sit there and wait until we got word it was Dan and Barry that were missing.
'It was just shock, pain, anger. It has taken over our lives ever since.'
It took two years until the inquest into the deaths was ready.
Norfolk Coroner's Court heard over two weeks in July 2016 evidence of working practices at the factory, including health and safety systems and the construction of the spray booth.
Summing up the case, area coroner Yvonne Blake described colleagues who made attempts to rescue the two men as 'very brave'.
She also ruled out a conclusion of unlawful killing, as the exact cause of the fire could not be determined.
Charlie, 23, had worked two stints at the factory, but had to leave after the incident.
'I just had to get out of there,' he said. 'It just felt like it wasn't very organised a lot of the time.
'I was in the old factory for a little while, then we moved over to the new one. It just took forever - it must have taken over a year before it even got completed. They were still doing the electrics when I was there.'
He added it was 'frustrating' at the inquest to learn of the health and safety that had not been completed at the factory.
'What was hard was knowing all the things behind the scenes [Mr Kidd] didn't do, and what he could have done to stop things like that happening.
'He had the choice to do it, but he didn't.
'He had a folder full of stuff he should have done but never did.
'I was there a while and they had just managed to put the fire alarms in. All we had was air horns before that and half of those didn't work.
'With those welding bays next to the paint spraying machine you just know something was going to happen.'
According to the Health and Safety executive report from inspector Brian Mills, the explosion was 'almost inevitable'.
Ms Blake told the inquest: 'He said the very many potential sources of ignition made it a probability something may occur that led to an explosion,' she said.
'It may never be known with absolute certainty but what can be said is the lack of control shown by the company made it almost inevitable a coincidence of ignition and flammable vapours would occur.'
Charlie said: 'The HSE told us if it didn't happen that day it would have happened on another. After it happened I think a lot of people thought it was me and my dad in there. Anyone could have been in there at the time.'
Around 15 minutes before the explosion, Dan had sent a text to his partner Faye reading: 'Tell Ryan I love him'.
His son had just turned two at the time, and as a five-year-old still doesn't fully understand what happened.
'Ryan knows something happened to his daddy, and knows he is in heaven,' said Ms Hill. 'I have got pictures around of Daniel and we show him photos. He will talk about daddy on his motorbike and how he wants to get a bike like daddy when he is older.
'One day he turned around and asked why daddy's hat was there and if he was coming back to get it.
'He was only just two when he lost his dad. How do you explain to a five-year-old what actually happened?
'He will never forget his dad and he will know who is dad was.'
Ms Hill added being a father had 'straightened him out'.
'Dan was my youngest,' she said.'He was a bit of a jack the lad and a joker, and he was always up to no good in school.
'He had trouble reading and writing, so they put him on work placement three days a week working as a mechanic.
'He left school unqualified and went to Alfa Romeo, then Pyramid, then Harford.
'He actually went there to be a welder. When he first started he was a bit of a dogs body, then he went to college and passed his course.'
'He was a brilliant dad. He doted on his little boy. He just wanted to better himself so he could support his family properly.'
Mr Joy had been working at the factory 15 years before he died, and was well respected there.
'He was just so caring,' said Charlie. 'He would always look out for everyone and he was always trying his best to help others.
'Steve asked dad if I ever did welding or anything, and that is how I got into Harford. With that place it always seemed to be a sprint all the time.
'Dad always used to say it is a marathon, not a sprint, and would work quite late to get all the orders ready. When we got American orders it was quite rushed. He would always be working late and sometimes Saturdays to get them done.'
'They should have been safe'
After Harford was fined, company director Steve Kidd said in a statement: 'The company would wish to repeat its deepest regret for the incident, and our sympathies go out to the two families.
'Many substantial changes have been made so to ensure safe working systems and practices.'
Norwich Crown Court heard last month from Ben Compton, mitigating for Mr and Mrs Kidd, that the company had been 'out of its depth' at the time.
He said: 'Since then this company has spent enormous amount of money on putting things right.'
He added the firm is in a 'parlous position', as it is paying off more than £220,000 of invoices to the Health and Safety Executive for interventions.
'This offence has taken the company to the brink of its existence, but it is still there and hopefully will survive,' Mr Compton added.
But both families remain angry at the firm, and believe it should be shut down.
In a statement, Charlie and Harry Joy, Barry's two sons, said: 'We do not believe they show any remorse.
'It was so preventable if health and safety had been respected and we hope this will be a lesson to other businesses. 'Nothing Mr and Mrs Kidd can say will bring our dad back, but we hope they live with some of the pain that we still have.'
Dan's brother, Ash Timbers, added; 'It has been a long, hard three years for both families for it all to come to an end with no serious punishment for the directors when there will be life long torment for both families.
'The fact they failed in so many places and are allowed to continue trading is beyond us all.
'Two lives have been lost in a factory where they should have been safe and all the company gets is a slap on the wrist while we continue to hurt and a kid has to grow up without his father.'