Gas Explosion Kills Girl in Plymouth.
It was with great sadness I read of the death of Stephanie Hammacott in today’s Plymouth Herald. It was her terrible misfortune to be passing by a house on her way to school as a gas explosion blew it to pieces. She was buried under flying rubble and later died in Derriford hospital. I can only offer my deepest condolences to the girl’s family, which will of course be of little or no comfort at this awful time. Amazingly, the occupants of the house escaped serious injury.
How the explosion came about is still a matter of investigation, but I’m willing to take an educated guess. While it is entirely possible that this was a freak and unavoidable accident, my experience as a gas engineer suggest to me that the likeliest causes are –
1) a gas cooker or fire left on overnight,
2) an unattended fracture of a gas main or service pipe in the street,
3) bad workmanship after work on a gas appliance, or
4) a nail put through a gas pipe while laying carpets or hanging pictures.
A passing comment in the Herald’s coverage of the incident leads me to suspect that the cause is 2), an unattended fracture in the street.
“(Police) Officers received reports that gas had been smelt in the area before the explosion.“
Later in the same article, a spokesman for Wales and South West Utilities is quoted as saying that they had received no previous reports of a smell of gas at the location. Which leaves me with the distinct impression that someone did smell gas at the site but did nothing about it. If this is the case, the person or persons who smelt gas but did not report it holds a great deal of responsibility for this little girl’s death. If nothing else, this should be a stark reminder to all of us that if you think you can smell gas you should report it immediately on 0800 111 999. Even if you think it is your imagination. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
A thing that bothers me about the forthcoming investigation into the cause of this explosion, is the fact that both the city council and the gas company will be participating in it. I don’t think that should be the case when it is still entirely possible that one or the other may be culpable of negligence. And while it could be argued that Wales and West Utilities(formerly British Gas, and Transco) have valuable expertise in the field, it is also true that they have a past history of negligence leading to fatalities, and a record of trying to evade and cover-up said responsibility. And I should know, I worked for British Gas and Transco for ten years. In fact, I resigned from them after an explosion killed a family of four in Scotland in 1999. Until it is clear that they, or the Council, have no responsibility in this, the investigation should be the exclusive preserve of the Police, Fire Service, and the Health and Safety Executive.