Friends tell inquest how they tried to save Bognor man crushed to death

Mieczyslaw Siwak, known as Mitch by his friends, who died in an incident at Portsmouth International Port.
Mieczyslaw Siwak, known as Mitch by his friends, who died in an incident at Portsmouth International Port.

Workers have told how they desperately tried to save their colleague who had been crushed by two cargo containers at a shipping port.

Employees at Portsmouth shipping port have told a jury of the night of August 25, 2017, and how they tried to resuscitate colleague Mieczyslaw Siwak, known as Mitch, after moving the container at MMD Shipping Services at Flathouse Quay.

Crane driver Stephen Gregory had just clocked off from his shift at around 6.40pm and was leaving the site on his bike when he heard forklift operator Justin Gibbons screaming and ran over to help.

He told Portsmouth Coroner’s Court: "I could see Justin on the floor and he was wailing. I though he had fallen and broken his legs.

"I took my phone out to call an ambulance and then I saw Mitch. I could see he was crushed. We tried to feel for a pulse in his neck.

"It was not until after incident that I realised it was Mitch."

Dock operative Andrew Fox, who had known Mitch for 10 years, said: ‘Stephen was on the phone and they told us to do CPR. I moved Mitch and I could see the extent of his injuries.’ Mr Fox went to do chest compressions but could not due to the extent of his injuries.

Mr Fox also said Mitch, 34, suffered a large gash on his head. A paramedic arrived to help but Mitch died. "I ensured my colleagues stayed out the immediate area and I was the last staff member to stay with him because I did not want him to be on his own," Mr Fox said.

He added: "He was one of the people at work that I would call a good friend.

"He was taking his UK citizenship test and was looking forward to the future with his girlfriend as they had just bought a house."

Dock operative Christopher Drayton said: "I could not think of anyone who would want to do Mitch harm.

"Everyone is one big family at work."

Mr Drayton described Mitch, who is originally from Poland but was living in Bognor Regis, as a 'happy go lucky bloke’. It comes as night manager Michael Fitz-Earle rebutted the idea that bosses let safety standards slip. Coroner Lincoln Brookes questioned Mr Fitz-Earle, who was not on duty the night of the accident, on his competency to manage all the staff in the port – during the day there is a dedicated container park manager.

Mr Fitz-Earle said: "I felt I was capable with the information that I had."

He also confirmed that he was not trained to carry out the jobs of the people that he was overseeing including container stack lift drivers and pluggers – those putting electrical cables into refrigerated containers.

On Monday fork lift driver Mr Gibbons, from Locks Heath, told the court of the moment he realised Mitch had been crushed to death by a container. The coroner said the incident ‘couldn’t have happened if the container was higher or if there was radio communication’.

But Mr Gibbons said managers had never pulled him up for using the containers at a lower level even when plugging for him and had used hand gestures to signal to workers on the ground instead of radios. Yesterday Mr Fitz-Earle said: "I don’t recall ever plugging for him."

Mr Fitz-Earle said he was surprised that people were using hand gestures instead of the radio systems. Dock operative James Eacott, from Havant, was off on the evening of the incident but gave evidence about safety procedures at work. He said it was ‘common’ to use hand gestures and that communication often happened in the hut before going to work in the container park but said he had never seen Mitch driving with a low container.

Concerns were also raised about pluggers in the container park not sticking to safe walkways. Jurors heard a statement made in 2017 by Mr Eacott that said workers were ‘relaxed’ about walking around the park without using the designated paths.

(Proceeding)