A WASTE company and a yard manager have been found guilty of manslaughter after a labourer was crushed to death inside an industrial shredder.

The remains of David Willis, 29, were never found after he fell inside a machine designed for shredding wood and commercial waste at Timmins Waste Services (TWS) in Mander Street, Wolverhampton, on September 15 2018.

TWS and yard manager Brian Timmins, 54, who was operating the diesel-powered machine at the time, have been on trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court accused of “systemic failures” which led to Mr Willis’s death.

A jury of eight men and four women found the waste company guilty of corporate manslaughter and Timmins, of Fair Lawn, Albrighton, guilty of manslaughter after deliberating for more than 10 hours.

The jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of perverting the course of justice levelled at Timmins.

As the verdicts were returned on Wednesday, there were sobs and gasps from the public gallery.

The trial had been told that Timmins was operating the shredder when it stopped “abruptly”.

After investigating the machine, he used a digger to lift Mr Willis on top and inside to see what the problem was, jurors were told.

Prosecutor Christine Agnew KC said CCTV evidence showed the machine was still operational at the time but should have been turned off.

When Mr Willis disappeared inside the machine, Timmins was seen on CCTV looking around the yard and inside the shredder’s ‘hopper’, which guides the waste towards the machine’s blades, before calling Mr Willis’s phone.

He was then seen looking out the yard gates and running around the site, before returning to the digger and continuing to operate the shredder.

The next day, Timmins, and other employees who were working that day, loaded and disposed of 80 tonnes of recycled waste by taking it to a landfill site in Cannock, Staffordshire, which “must”, Ms Agnew said, have included the remains of Mr Willis.

Dudley News: David WillisDavid Willis (Image: West Midlands Police)

Mr Willis, who lived with his mother Caroline, was reported missing by her on the evening of September 15 when he did not return home to Tipton.

Ms Agnew told the jury that Mrs Willis called Timmins just before 11pm to ask if he had seen her son, but he said words to the effect of: “Not since this morning when he left and walked up the road.”

When police attended the yard days later on Monday September 17, CCTV footage showed Mr Willis falling into the shredder, prompting a search of the landfill site in Cannock.

Part of a tabard that may have belonged to him was discovered.

The prosecutor said Timmins’ conduct on the day of Mr Willis’s death “fell far below what would be expected of a reasonable and competent person in his position and was truly, exceptionally bad”.

It was also the prosecution’s case that Timmins “knew that Mr Willis had died in the shredder; he knew that some sort of criminal investigation or judicial proceedings were inevitable and he took active steps to interfere with evidence and to conceal the facts of the death”.

Timmins, who was granted unconditional bail, and TWS will be sentenced at Wolverhampton Crown Court on a date to be fixed.

A decision is yet to be made on a retrial on the perverting the course of justice charge.

Mr Justice Jacobs lifted any reporting restrictions, saying: “The public should know about this.”

Before jurors were discharged, Mr Justice Jacobs thanked them for staying “immensely focused” throughout the trial.

Det Insp Jim Colclough, who led the police investigation, said: “We found major, systemic failings across TWS which meant workers were put at risk.

“Risk assessments were not done, and safe methods of working were simply not put in place.

“Timmins’ failure to lock off the shredder, and his decision to put Mr Willis in a position of danger, directly caused this tragedy.

“We spent many weeks searching the site at Cannock, but only found part of a tabard which may have belonged to David.

“The fact that we could not recover David has added to the anguish caused to his family, and denied them the chance to say goodbye to him with dignity.”

Following the trial, Mr Willis’ family said: “David’s death is as painful for us now as it was five years ago.  David has missed out on so many treasured family moments, including the birth of his niece and the growing up of his nephew, who still treats David as his superhero in the sky.”