Coleraine gas fitter George Brown yesterday admitted causing the deaths of two Co Antrim students who died of carbon monoxide poisoning at a holiday home on the north coast.
Brown, 52, from Ballygawley Road in Aghadowey, appeared in the dock of Coleraine Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, where he pleaded guilty to unlawfully killing Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson.
The families of both young men were in the public gallery to hear the gas fitter admit his responsibilty for their deaths.
The 18-year-old friends died of carbon monoxide poisoning after they were overcome by the deadly gas in a holiday apartment in Castlerock on August 3, 2010. The pair – who along with another friend had gone to the seaside town for a break ahead of getting their A Level results – were found by their parents, who rushed from their homes in Newtownabbey to Castlerock when they were unable to contact them on the phone.
Brown initially denied two charges of manslaughter and a trial was due to commence next week. However, he was re-arraigned on a total of 21 charges and pleaded guilty to all of them.
As well as the two manslaughter charges, Brown admitted a string of offences involving failures in health and safety legislation. These charges include 15 counts of failing to protect non-employees, failing to ensure those fitting gas appliances were qualified and failing to test whether appliances were correctly connected.
The charges relate not just to the holiday home in Castlerock where Neil and Aaron perished, but also other private properties, as well as a restaurant and caravan park in Coleraine.
After Brown pleaded guilty to all 21 charges, crown prosecutor Frank O’Donoghoe QC told Mr Justice Weir: “This is a case where victim impact reports will be obtained in respect of the families of the two deceased, and of a third young man who was seriously injured in this tragic incident.”
Brown’s barrister, Jonpaul Shields, confirmed pre-sentence reports would also be sought on behalf of his client.
Brown will be sentenced for the offences on March 14 and he was released on continuing bail by Mr Justice Weir.
Speaking outside the court and flanked by the parents of both Neil and Aaron, DCI Rachel Shields of the PSNI said: “I would just like to say that the police welcome the guilty plea today made by George Brown in relation to gross negligence manslaughter involving the deaths of Aaron Davidson and Neil McFerran by carbon monoxide poisoning in August 2010.
“It is important to note that this is the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland whereby gross negligence manslaughter has been proven in carbon monoxide.
“It’s a tragic event in relation to the deaths of Aaron and Neil and it hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations getting to this stage and I would like to put on record my sincere gratitude and thanks to the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland who worked alongside police for the past three-and-a-half years.
“But I would also put out on record my gratitude and sincere respect for the families involved in this case. I want to thank them for their trust, their patience and their confidence in us – the Police Service for Northern Ireland – and the Health and Safety Executive.”