‘He should still be with us’ - Widow speaks out after factory blast death

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. 

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

The wife of a worker killed in an explosion at a Norwich chemical plant has vowed to continue the legal fight over safety failings that led to his death. 

Robert Cranston, 46, suffered blast injuries and thermal burns following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in July 2018 and was taken to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital but died later the same day.

Robert Cranston had been working at the Briar Chemicals plant when the explosion occured in July 201

Briar Chemicals plant where the explosion occurred in July 2018. - Credit: Archant

His wife Claire has spoken of the devastating effect his death has had on the family who were extremely close and rarely did anything without each other. 

The couple married in 2003 and had been together for 25 years and have two sons, Lewis, 23, and Owen, 22.

Owen was working alongside his father when the explosion occurred. He was not injured but has been left traumatised by the accident.

“He has struggled but I am hoping he is on the road to recovering and I am there 24-7 for him. He is 22 years old but I am still his mother,” she said. 

Rob Cranston, second from left, with wife Claire and sons Owen and Lewis. Picture: Family submit/Go

Rob Cranston, second from left, with wife Claire and sons Owen and Lewis.  - Credit: Family submit/Go Fund Me

“Rob should still be with us today. He is hugely missed. We were a very sociable family and we did everything together.”

Mrs Cranston, 44, who works in the rheumatology department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), initially believed both her husband and son had been injured in the explosion after receiving a call to say they were in A&E.

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“They said they had been working on Rob for an hour and I asked if I could go through to see him,” she recalled. 

“It was very upsetting to see the state he was in because he had a huge gash on his head. It wasn’t very pleasant at all.”

Robert Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich. He is pictured with his sons Lewis (left) and Owen

Robert Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich. He is pictured with his sons Lewis (left) and Owen. - Credit: Cranston family

Mr Cranston had been using a grinder as part of maintenance work on a chemical tank that contained remnants of a highly flammable chemical – Toluene – one of the components of the explosive TNT. 

Sparks from the grinder caused the fatal explosion at the factory on Sweet Briar Road. 

An inquest into his death heard the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered a series of safety faults with values, work permits, and inadequate methods to clean the tank of Toluene.

There was also no suitable monitoring equipment to test for dangerous explosive substances and gases in the tank.

Briar Chemicals plant on Sweet Briar Road in Norwich. Picture: Mike Page

The Briar Chemicals plant on Sweet Briar Road, Norwich. - Credit: Mike Page

Following an 11-day inquest, Yvonne Blake, area coroner for Norfolk, offered the jury a conclusion of "accidental death" - the only finding she deemed appropriate by law.

Mrs Cranston said: “We were very shocked. The HSE gave us the findings with 10 different failings that led to Rob’s death. 

“The conclusion was accidental death and that has upset me and I have been quite low because throughout they were thinking of unlawful killing. 

"It’s a kick in the teeth basically. Saying it was an accident doesn’t reflect the failings. When people hear an accident they try to put the blame on Rob but it was stated in the inquest that he and Owen were not at fault. They did everything they were supposed to do. 

“We are hoping the HSE will now prosecute and I have put in a civil claim as well.”

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. 

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Mr Cranston had worked for engineering firm Pruce Newman for 10 years but had been contracted at Briar Chemicals for three years prior to the accident.

His wife said he was only carrying out welding work at the factory at the time of his death because a colleague was off work after breaking his leg. 

“Rob was actually a shift supervisor,” she said. “He was a welder but he was mostly in the office. We had been on holiday and when he came back there was a big backlog of welding to be done.” 

She added: “Rob should still be with us today. He is hugely missed.”

Robert Cranston pictured with his sons Lewis (left) and Owen. Mr Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals...

Rob Cranston (right), pictured with his sons Lewis (left) and Owen, was a well known and keen sportsman.  - Credit: Cranston family

A keen cricketer and sportsman, more than 750 people attended his funeral at Norwich Cathedral. 

Mrs Cranston said: “We have still got a rough road ahead of us because we have two court cases to go to, criminal and civil court. 

“I will be there for both of those because he was my husband and I want to put forward that someone was at fault for him losing his life.”

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