Family tell of loss after Briton, 40, died at a Qatari stadium, as British coroner says managers should have known equipment was faulty
Builder Zac Cox a ‘kind and thoughtful man' let down by World Cup 2022 site equipment in Doha
Family and colleagues of Zac Cox, the British construction worker who died in an accident at a Qatari World Cup venue in January 2017, have described their horror at his death and frustration at the lack of official co-operation in investigations.
A British coroner concluded on Tuesday that “many managers [on the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha] should have known they were effectively asking their workers to rely on lethal, or potentially lethal, equipment.”
After the verdict, Gavin Kelly, a senior aide to the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown and Mr Cox’s brother-in-law, tweeted that “the underlying cause of his death was crucial equipment failing”.
“This isn't about one person making a mistake,” Mr Kelly said.
“The report states that the equipment was uncertified & the relevant companies knew at the time that it was in poor condition. In court, Zac’s colleague described some of the equipment supplied to them as ‘junk’ and ‘rubbish’.”
Mr Cox’s safety harness snapped when a catwalk on which he was working fell and sent him plunging 40 metres head-first. He died instantly on impact from brain injuries and a broken neck.
On the same day, Mr Cox's colleague Graham Vance was arrested, having been falsely accused of causing his co-worker's death. Mr Vance was unable to leave Qatar for 12 months until he was acquitted.
Hazel Mayes and Ella Joseph, Mr Cox’s sisters-in-law, described their South African-born relative as “very, very kind. He brought as much joy as he could to those around him. A thoughtful man".
They told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that as a result of “information we’ve gained from various sources, including from colleagues”, they were not confident of any information they would receive from the Qatari body behind the World Cup planning or from the contractors involved in building the stadiums.
“It’s deeply distressing. We’ve lost a loved one, a very, very dear friend, and no one has been held responsible,” Ms Mayes said.
Ms Joseph agreed: “There’s no sense that anyone will be held accountable. And we’ve no confidence that lessons will be learnt and that other families won’t be put in this horrific situation.”
They showed Newsnight a photograph of the scene of Mr Cox’s death.
“I find this probably the most traumatic piece of information that we’ve got,” Ms Mayes said. “You can see that this is where Zac apparently landed, you can see his safety harness, which has been cut, you can see the ropes, you can see his shoe and you can see the dent in the structure, which is probably where he fell.”
A work colleague and friend, Jon Johnson, described Mr Cox’s death: “From the beginning of the lever hoist failing to Zac hitting the ground was about three and half seconds. It was a big fall.
"I was working parallel to Zac and his team, on another set of catwalks. All of a sudden we heard a large bang and I looked over to see the chain running through the block of the lever hoist and the catwalk started falling away.
“Zac got pulled towards the slings that were holding the lever hoist up and the weight of the catwalk was entirely on Zac then, on his line, which failed, and the catwalk swung away leaving Zac to fall to the ground. I believe it was 39 metres that he fell."
Newsnight explained how the two contractors working on the stadium, Midmac-Six and German-based company Pfeifer, had kept the family “in the dark”. In the end, Mr Cox’s family only managed to get the report into his death from unofficial channels.
Ms Joseph said: “It was undertaken by the companies involved and by the supreme committee [overseeing the World Cup] but we’ve never been given that document formally. It’s the clearest account of what happened to Zac and why.”
Ms Mayes agreed: “The fact that it’s been there and nothing’s happening to it, and no one’s going to read it, and it’s not going to lead to any other sequence of events where people are actually going to be held to account is deeply distressing.”
“One of the key things in this report,” Ms Joseph said, “was the page that talks very clearly about the equipment being used, and the fact that it was in poor condition. It had no third-party certification available, but yet it was labelled up and provided for Zac and his colleagues to use in their work.”
“In normal circumstances,” Ms Mayes said, “that equipment should have been put in the bin without the relevant and appropriate certification. But yet it was used for a team of people who were working 40 metres above ground level. In my opinion that’s beyond devastating.”
Although the contractors said the equipment was fit for use, Mr Cox’s colleague, Mr Johnson, said the teams had run out of lever hoists so some were borrowed, according to Newsnight.
“There were parts missing, they were rusty. We knew this stuff was not suitable for use in such a project. I believe we were using it because we’d run out of our own equipment. The equipment from Pfeifer was second to none, the best in the world. We had no problems using it, we’d used it on other projects before, no problems.
“But we ran out. I believe that that batch of lever hoists that were borrowed [from Midmac-Six] should never have been on site.”
Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley said: “The system after Christmas 2016 was chaotic, unprofessional, unthinking and downright dangerous. I find that many men, many managers, should have known they were effectively asking their workers to rely on lethal – or potentially lethal – equipment.”
The family are “calling for a full, independent inquiry into the evidence”, said Ms Joseph.
“Until the full investigation has been carried out by an impartial party, I think there are still unknowns,” Ms Mayes agreed.
Qatar’s supreme committee for delivery and legacy told Newsnight: “Several systematic failures and human errors had contributed to the incident and that four members of staff had been removed and banned from working on further projects.
"The supreme committee has been assured that the contractors would keep in touch with Mr Cox’s family and apologised for failing to do so itself. Worker’s welfare was its main concern.”
The building contractors denied any equipment was substandard and said that they had kept in close contact “at all times” with the family and the British embassy.
"All official information in the possession of Pfeifer has been immediately forwarded to the family. The internal investigation report does not constitute an official report conducted by the Qatari authorities and therefore is not relevant. All information has been communicated to the Qatari authorities," Pfeifer said in a statement.
Mr Kelly concluded a string of tweets by saying that “Zac Cox was a very special man. Still much loved & never to be forgotten".