Didcot Power Station collapse: families and industry await answers eight years on

“As a family it’s like we’re stuck in 2016,” says Sadie Cresswell, as the eighth anniversary of the building collapse that killed her father approaches.

She has no more understanding of why it happened than she did at the time.

“Unfortunately, it’s very much the same year on year,” she tells Construction News.

Her father Ken Cresswell, 57, was one of four men who were killed in the Didcot Power Station collapse on 23 February 2016.

A joint police and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) probe was launched in its aftermath. It is the longest-running investigation in the history of Thames Valley Police.

This week the force confirmed it is still investigating potential corporate manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter and health and safety offences, and said it has carried out “further suspect and key witness” interviews.

No one has ever been arrested or charged in relation to the deaths.

Ken Cresswell, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was an experienced operative and passionate about his work. “He absolutely loved it, he’d come home and tell us about it and we were sat there like ‘what’s he on about now?’” Sadie Cresswell, who was 24 in 2016, and is now 32, recalls.

He was “a family man with a big heart”, who left behind a wife, three daughters and two granddaughters, none of whom have had any information about what happened to him, she adds.

Ken Cresswell was working alongside Coleman & Company colleagues Chris Huxtable, 34, John Shaw, 61, and Mick Collings, 53, as they prepared the 10-storey high boiler house at Didcot Power Station for demolition.

The workers were weakening the steel legs of the 100-metre-long structure by cutting them. The building was scheduled to be demolished with explosives a week-and-a-half later but collapsed on 23 February 2016, resulting in the deaths of the four men and injuring five others.

Mick Collings was found dead shortly afterwards, while the bodies of Ken Cresswell, Chris Huxtable and John Shaw were not recovered until August and September 2016.

No answers have yet been provided to the families – or the wider demolition industry – about why the building collapsed.

“First and foremost, we need justice for my dad, John, Chris and Mick, and secondly we need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” says Sadie Cresswell.

Of their colleagues on site that day who survived she adds: “Can you imagine hearing that noise and next minute it was on the floor? It went from being stood to just boom and a cloud of dust. Can you imagine that happening at work? Running for your life? How do you deal with that?”

Tia Huxtable is now 19 years old. She was 11 when her father Chris Huxtable, from Swansea, died.

Chris Huxtable with his daughter Tia

She previously said she felt like investigators were “dragging their feet” over the incident, but now, following another meeting with them, she has changed her view.

“They are doing the best they can for the best outcome,” she says. “I know how much time and effort has been put in since day one. Even though it seems like a lifetime and like they are dragging their feet, they’re really trying their best.

“Hopefully the time it’s taken will bring the best outcome and justice for us families, the four poor men who lost their lives and also the [other] men who have had traumatic experiences.”

Huxtable, who previously described her father as “the most loving, heart-warming person you could have ever met”, says she loves and misses him and that on the eighth anniversary the affected families will be remembering “our amazing memories we have of our loved ones”.

She says she hopes and prays that they receive answers within the next two years about “why our loved ones went to work that day and didn’t get to come home to their families”.

“We won’t give up without a fight,” she adds.

Like Ken Cresswell, John Shaw, 61, was from Rotherham in South Yorkshire.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion says it is insulting that families have been waiting so long for answers.

“The overarching theme of the Didcot tragedy is delay,” she says. “Delay in getting the men out and home, delays in gathering evidence, delay in communicating with the families, and now the ultimate insult – an eight-year delay in securing justice and finding out the truth of what caused the collapse. Still, we have no court date.”

Thames Valley Police, however, stresses that it is a complicated investigation. It says the dedicated investigation team it and the HSE formed immediately after the collapse is continuing to look at possible corporate manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter and health and safety offences.

Deputy chief constable Ben Snuggs adds: “As always our thoughts remain with the families of Michael Collings, Ken Cresswell, Christopher Huxtable and John Shaw following the loss of their loved ones.

“Thames Valley Police, together with the Health and Safety Executive, remains totally committed to rigorously investigating the collapse, and I am very conscious of the time it is taking to investigate those circumstances.”

He adds: “This investigation is significant and complex with vast amounts of witness, digital and physical evidence, and we continue to make good progress with further suspect and key witness interviews.

“We are also in close liaison with the Crown Prosecution Service, and continue to provide appropriate updates to key stakeholders and interested parties.

“It is our responsibility and duty to investigate thoroughly, following all reasonable lines of enquiry, and we will do everything we can to provide answers to the families.”

Coleman & Company, which is now known as Colemans, said in its latest set of accounts in November that it “continues to cooperate” with the investigation.

It added: “Based upon rigorous inquiries undertaken by independent specialists and on professional advice, the directors do not believe the company is responsible for the cause of the incident.”

RWE, the client behind the works, said in a statement: “We understand the significance of the eighth anniversary of the boiler house collapse at Didcot Power Station, and our thoughts remain with the families of the four men who died tragically as a result of the collapse.

“We continue to cooperate fully with the Health and Safety Executive and Thames Valley Police. However, while the investigations are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

Colemans has been contacted for comment.

Didcot Power Station timeline:

March 2013: Didcot A Power Station decommissioned. Owner RWE nPower decides to demolish the structures on site and clear land for redevelopment.

July 2014: Three famous cooling towers are demolished by Coleman & Company – an event that is national news and livestreamed online in a bid to stop too many people gathering at the edge of the exclusion zone set up for the purpose.

23 February 2016: Ten days before its scheduled demolition date, part of the site’s boiler house collapses onto three workers while they are preparing it. Michael Collings, 53, from Cleveland, is found dead soon afterwards, while three workers are treated as missing. Five others are taken to hospital with injuries. At least 47 people are treated for dust inhalation.

2 March 2016: In an interview with CN, Coleman & Company managing director Mark Coleman says it is hugely important that whatever went wrong “isn’t hidden”, noting how many other power station demolition jobs are scheduled both in England and worldwide.

May 2016: Work to recover the missing men is halted due to “safety fears”.

July 2016: Preparations begin to demolish remainder of boiler house using explosives put in place by robots.

31 August 2016: The body of Chris Huxtable is found.

7 September 2016: The body of Ken Cresswell is found.

9 September 2016: The body of John Shaw is found.

June 2017: Replacement contractor Brown and Mason begins work to clear the boiler house units that did not collapse.

31 January 2018: Thames Valley Police says it has obtained 1,921 witness statements so far and is continuing to investigate potential offences including corporate manslaughter.

23 February 2018: Thames Valley Police says the investigation could take several more years to conclude and has already cost “several million pounds”.

23 February 2019: Police announce 870 tonnes of material is being examined at the HSE’s forensic facility in Buxton, Derbyshire. The site of the collapse is no longer the main base of the investigation.

11 April 2019: HSE awards contract to transport a “substantial amount” of extra evidence to the forensic lab.

18 August 2019: Remaining cooling towers demolished by Brown and Mason. Three onlookers suffer minor injuries and one is taken to hospital when shell protection attached to one of the towers lands on a nearby power line. The HSE later says the event was unforeseeable.

9 February 2020: Final chimney demolished by Brown and Mason.

23 February 2021: Police say they remain “unfaltering in their duty” to investigate the collapse.

November 2021: McLaren wins contract to build data centre on the site of the former power station.

23 February 2024: Joint police and HSE investigation will enter its ninth year.

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