Closing in on rogue gas fitters

First published in Silent Killer The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

ROGUE gas fitters who put people at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning were warned their days were numbered yesterday, after MPs backed tough new laws.

In a major victory for the Northern Echo's 'Silent Killer' campaign, the Commons passed a Bill to allow workers guilty of negligence to be jailed, instead of escaping with a puny fine.

The Health and Safety (Offences) Bill is aimed at scandals such as a badly-trained gas fitters escaping with fines as low as £4,000 when their actions have claimed lives.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that up to 20,000 rogue fitters - either untrained or deregistered for negligence - are servicing gas fires and boilers in British homes.

A Commons debate heard that 1.5m gas appliances were being installed every year by workers not registered by the Council for Registered Gas Installers (CORGI).

Following the vote, a delighted Keith Hill, the Labour backbencher sponsoring the Bill, told the Northern Echo: "The writing is now on the wall for rogue gas fitters.

"One more heave through the House of Lords and parliament will have done what the courts have been calling for it to do for years - they will be able to imprison rogue gas fitters whose criminal negligence has cost so many lives."

The Northern Echo launched its 'Silent Killer' campaign following the death of Anne Brennan, a 19-year-old student from Houghton-le-Spring, Wearside, in digs in Durham City in 1995.

An inquest ruled she was unlawfully killed and her landlord was fined £10,000 for failing to ensure the boiler in the property was properly maintained.

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims up to 20 lives each year and injures a further 200 people, who suffer kidney failure, blindness, brain damage, memory loss, personality changes and incontinence.

The government has waged a long war with the gas industry, which it criticised for refusing to pay for a TV advertising campaign to warn of the dangers of faulty equipment.

As long ago as 2001, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) demanded a multi-million pound campaign funded by a voluntary levy on gas suppliers - but they refused to pay up.

Mr Hill brought forward the Bill after judges, going back more than a decade, protested at being unable to impose jail sentences for major health and safety offences.

Backing the legislation, work minister Anne McGuire said it was vital to send out a powerful message to those who tried to "flaunt" health and safety regulations that jail was an option.

After receiving an unopposed third reading in the Commons, the Bill now goes to the Lords with an excellent chance of reaching the statute book.

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