Gas fitter's explanation dubbed "just ridiculous" in manslaughter trial
A gas fittter's explanation of why a flue pipe was found disconnected at a house where the daughter of a multi-millionaire publishing boss died of carbon monoxide poisoning was dubbed "just ridiculous" by an industry expert today.
Manslaughter suspect, Andrew Hartley, of Bath New Road, Radstock, fitted a new boiler at the family home of 24-year-old Zoe Anderson days before she was found dead.
The 36-year-old defendant admitted that he had neglected to fit screws after his arrest but suggested that the sub zero temperatures in December 2010 had caused the flue pipe to come away from a turret elbow.
Hartley has denied one charge of manslaughter and one charge of breaching gas safety regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
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Giving evidence in the trial at Bristol Crown Court, Howard Reed, an independent consultant working for Avon and Somerset Police, who examined the boiler at the Anderson address in Sion Road, Bath, told the jury he had not found the usual signs to show that the flue pipe and turret elbow had ever been joined together.
Asked if they could have come apart in the below freezing conditions between December 16 and 26, 2010, the dates between when Hartley fitted a new boiler and Miss Anderson returned to the property, Mr Reed said: "That's just ridiculous."
He explained: "There's no water in the pipe. Water expands considerably when frozen. There would not have been any build up of water in there.
"Hot and cold temperatures would not affect the flue pipe in that manner, especially when they are correctly installed into the property."
The jury heard that there had been a gap of 22mm between the flue pipe and the turret elbow when Mr Reed examined the system.
During his investigation into the death of Miss Anderson Mr Reed said he had found carbon monoxide had reached lethal levels in the property because the flue pipe was not connected to the turret elbow.
He said he had examined the pipe for marks to show it had been attached but had not found tell tale signs of silicone sealant that fitters are recommended to use.
He said scratches on the pipe had not been caused by joining it to the turret elbow, where there is a rubber seal, but were probably caused by contact with masonry.
Asked by James Townsend, defending, if the scratches and a black smear on the pipe could be taken collectively to show that the flue had been joined up at some stage, Mr Reed said "no."
Miss Anderson was found slumped in the shower room by her boyfriend Alastair Uhlig on December 29 when he used a spare set of keys to enter the house after failing to get hold of her.
The trial continues.