Court: Survivor guilt over Didcot led to alcohol problems

By David Parker | 12/12/2018

Court: Survivor guilt over Didcot led to alcohol problems
The decommissioned Didcot Power Station collapsed in February 2016

A DEMOLITION worker who narrowly avoided being caught up in the Didcot disaster after swapping shifts with one of the victims has been spared a spell behind bars.

John Smith (45) carried on dancing for several minutes at The County pub in Rotherham town centre after flooring David Still with a haymaker punch.

Sheffield Crown Court heard Smith's life entered a downward spiral after four of his workmates - including John Shaw and Ken Cresswell of Rotherham - were killed when the decommissioned Oxfordshire power plant they were dismantling collapsed in February 2016.

Smith had taken the day off for his birthday and one of the men who was killed had gone to work in his place.

The court heard Smith, of Rother View Road, Canklow, self-medicated by drinking instead of seeking counselling.

Over a year later, in the early hours of May 5, 2017, he knocked out Mr Still in The County - fracturing his skull.

Ms Stephanie Hollis, prosecuting, described CCTV to the court last Wednesday, saying: "There doesn't appear to be any difficulty between them for some period.

"One blow puts him [Mr Still] on the floor, leaving him unconscious, while the defendant continues to dance for several minutes."

Ms Hollis said there was nothing on CCTV or in evidence to show what caused the incident.

Mr Still was in hospital in an induced coma for a week and discharged himself against medical advice.

"He [Mr Still] said in a victim personal statement that he was paranoid now about going out and socialising," said Ms Hollis.

Smith admitted grievous bodily harm at the same court the day before his sentencing hearing.

Mr Dermot Hughes, mitigating, said Smith's life was turned on its head on the day of the Didcot disaster.

"Because it was his birthday, he agreed to swap shifts with a family member," said Mr Hughes.

"Whilst he was not working, and whilst he was celebrating his birthday, his family member, who took over Mr Smith's shift, was caught up in the incident and lost his life."

Mr Hughes said Smith suffered feelings of misplaced guilt and did not seek any counselling following the incident, instead turning to drink and suffering physically and financially as a result.

He said Smith worked in London from the early hours of Monday to late on a Friday evening every week, while his wife was working three jobs.

Mr Hughes added: "He's not a bad man, he's far from it. He's a man that fell into the sort of mistake that people often do in the face of such difficulties."

Judge Rachel Harrison gave Smith a 16-month jail term suspended for two years.

"Whatever happened between the two of you, you punched him with what could be described by TV pundits as an absolute haymaker of a punch," she said.

"You carried on dancing while he lay prone on the floor. Instead of being man enough to admit the offence, you answered no comment to the police.

"You need to stop drinking. It clearly doesnt agree with you.

"You have shown yourself to be an exceptionally violent man while you're drunk."

Smith was also ordered to complete 100 hours unpaid work. 


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