NEWS
07/11/2018 15:52 GMT | Updated 07/11/2018 17:09 GMT

Inquest Opens Into Deaths Of 5 African Workers Crushed By Birmingham Wall Collapse

"His death has torn the family apart."

Imran Khan and Partners

The widow of a man crushed to death with four of his colleagues when a 15ft concrete wall collapsed on them at work found out her husband had died via a Whatsapp message, an inquest heard on Wednesday.

Ousmane Kaba Diaby, 39, originally from Senegal, was buried under tonnes of rubble along with four Gambian co-workers who had all moved to Birmingham from Spain to find work at a scrap metal yard.

The men, who all had Spanish citizenship, died at the scene near a storage bay at Hawkeswood Metal Recycling in Birmingham on July 7 2016 after the wall collapsed 15 minutes after they began their shift, shortly before 9am.

The bodies of Ousmane Kaba Diaby, 39, Almano Kinteh Jammeh, 45, Bangally Tunkara Dukaray, 55, Saib Sumbundu Sillah, 42, and Mahamadou Jagana Jagana, 49, were so disfigured that all five were identified only by their fingerprint records held with passport details by immigration authorities in Spain.

A sixth man suffered a broken leg in the collapse at the facility run by parent company Shredmet Ltd.

On Wednesday, more than two years after the tragedy, an inquest heard from the widows of four of the dead workers who described how their husbands had moved to the UK to build a better life for their young families.

Diaby’s widow, Aminata Kaba, told the jury at Birmingham Coroner’s Court she’d found out about the father-of-four’s death from a WhatsApp message and that her last words to him had been to say she loved him during a conversation the night before.

With the help of an interpreter who speaks the native Gambian language of Mandingo, Kaba said her husband had left his native Senegal in 1999 to work in Spain as a pizza delivery man in Barcelona where the couple lived until moving to Birmingham in March 2016.

She said: “I found out about his death when someone told me that a message had been put up on a WhatsApp group.

“I went to the mosque and my uncle told me. The last time I saw my husband was the night before and his last words to me was that he loved me and he asked me if I loved him too.

“I told him he was the only person I loved and that I really love him.”

A packed public gallery listened intently as statements from each of the widows, all dressed in traditional Gambian garb, were read out before the jury and coroner Emma Brown.

Jammeh’s widow, Awa Dibba, said the accident had “torn my world apart” and she still had not told her youngest children about his death.

Dibba said in a statement: “Almamo worked so hard and loved his family. His death has torn the family apart both here and back home in Gambia. It has devastated us.

“The little children ask every day for their dad, they don’t know he has died.”

She added: “I was excited to tell my parents that I was going to England to start a new life, however when I arrived I had to tell them that my husband had died.

“The children were devastated as they thought they were going to see daddy and finally spend a lengthy period of time with him in the country where he was working.

“Instead I had to view his dead body at rest when I arrived.”

Dukuray’s wife, Hawa Kaba, a housekeeper at a Travelodge, said: “I can only describe the effect as absolutely devastating and I cannot believe he has passed away.

“Since my husband’s death my son has become very quiet and withdrawn.

“I have found life a huge struggle without him and I miss him daily.” 

The widow of Mahamadou Jagana Jagana said her husband’s death had left her isolated in a foreign country where she has no friends.

Mr Sillah’s cousin had a statement read out by a court officer which said his family “meant everything” and he would work seven days a week, every minute he could, to provide for his family in Gambia.

Earlier Coroner Emma Brown said: “They were clearing out a scrap metal storage bay when one of the walls, made of heavy concrete blocks, fell on to them.

“A 999 call was made at 8.45am, emergency services attended and it was identified that all five men were deceased.

“A sixth man was severely injured in that incident but he was extricated and taken to hospital.”

Detectives from West Midlands Police are investigating the deaths alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the inquest heard from Detective Chief Inspector Nigel Harrison from West Midlands Police.  

He said his understanding of a HSE conclusion into what happened was that “due to the weight of the metal ingots in the adjacent bay, the amount of force pushing against the wall caused it to collapse and fall onto the victims.”

He added inquiries were made into the concrete blocks, which were “not secured, but had been slotted together to approximately three metres in height.”

However DI Harrison said this was “an acceptable” way of constructing walls of “blocks of that design”.

The inquest, expected to last more than two weeks, continues.