A cowboy builder has been ordered to pay over £12,000 after he caused a house to fall into a trench while working on a kitchen extension.
Bungling Paul Astbury, 50, was digging the foundations when the house next door sunk into the hole he had created.
The careless builder – who runs Astbury Design and Build – had filled the trench with concrete – but dug it 60cm lower than next door and overnight the house partially collapsed.
Fortunately no-one was in the neighbouring house, number 69 Blackburn Avenue, Wolverhampton, at the time of the building work in February last year.
The front and side walls of the semi-detached house crumbled into the hole leaving the upstairs bedroom and downstairs dining room exposed.
On Tuesday Astbury was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay £4,500 in costs along with a £15 victim surcharge when he appeared at Wolverhampton Magistrates Court.
District Judge Graeme Wilkinsons branded Astbury’s building methods “potentially catastrophic”.
He told him: “It strikes me as laughable they can describe your work as of the highest possible standard.
“This was potentially catastrophic. The work done was not of a high standard, you must have known that.
“It is pure blind luck the people living at number 69 were not present.
“Effectively, the accounts reflect a year when the company worked for free.
“The fact the limited company was carrying this out without insurance cover is a major aggravating factor.
“Companies have to learn that when they take shortcuts there will be real financial hardship for them.”
On behalf of his firm, Astbury, a former marine, pleaded guilty to failing to conduct excavations in such a way that residents were not exposed to risks under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Prosecutor Gareth Langston told the court: “The case is based on the risk created, not the outcome, but it did create substantial property damage.
“The tenant at the property moved out and the owner has had to have it substantially repaired and rebuilt.”
Analysis of the company accounts during the case showed it was “effectively bankrupt” as Astbury had finished the work at number 71 free of charge during the past year.
At the time of the collapse, owner of the house, Yogie Kumar, 41, who had been renting out the property, said he was “shocked and upset”.
He said: “The inspector said he had never seen anything like it. I am still in shock.
“The neighbours said they woke up after hearing a noise like an earthquake, and when they came out to check they saw the massive cracks in the walls.”
He said the woman who had been renting the house, who was believed to have been living with two children, was visiting relatives when the collapse happened.
Sarah Froggatt, defending, said he felt morally responsible for the damage.
She added: “Mr Astbury wants to assure you he isn’t hiding anything in his accounts.
“The company will be paying for the civil proceedings.
“Liability has never been an issue.
“He feels he has a moral obligation to put right what went wrong that day in February.
“The house didn’t actually collapse and was demolished safely.
“He’s mortified that this is a health and safety matter and his reputation will be known to potential customers.”
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