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Geoconsult denies quality control role on Heathrow Express

HEATHROW EXPRESS main contractor Balfour Beatty reduced the role of its tunnelling consultant Geoconsult to little more than observer.

That was the claim of Geoconsult's solicitor Arthur Marriott QC as he closed the case for the defence last Friday.

Marriott's closing comments were followed by a day and a half of summing up from the judge, Mr Justice Cresswell, before the jury was sent out to consider its verdict on Tuesday.

Geoconsult and Balfour Beatty are being prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive for failing to ensure the safety of their employees and others during the 1994 collapse of three tunnels built using the New Austrian Tunnelling Method at Heathrow's central terminal area.

The HSE claimed that poor workmanship by Balfour Beatty caused the cave- in and Geoconsult, as on-site NATM expert responsible for monitoring tunnel movements during construction, should have done more to prevent the collapse. Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty.

Geoconsult denied the charges.

Geoconsult claimed it could not be blamed for the ongoing concrete quality problems because it did not have a formal quality control role. This was confirmed in a letter from Balfour Beatty's project director Alan Myers to BAA a month before the collapse.

Geoconsult also claimed that its resources were limited by its contract with Balfour Beatty. It said the contractor revised the draft contract between the two parties so that Geoconsult had to use monitoring instruments and software supplied by Balfour Beatty. It claimed this set-up was inadequate.

In an interview with the HSE, Geoconsult's head of NATM work at HEX and the Jubilee Line Extension, Kurt Laubichler, said the consultant was limited to one senior engineer.

'We were requested in writing by Balfour Beatty, I think after the contract award, that we should propose one man to work within the framework of the services description.' He added that Geoconsult had no choice other than to go along with it.

The prosecution rejected these arguments. It said that given the location of the tunnels under one of the busiest airports in the world and under the busy London Underground Piccadilly Line, Geoconsult not only had a contractual duty but also a moral duty to do everything it could to ensure that nobody was put at risk.

It argued that if Geoconsult felt under-resourced then it should have done something about it 'no matter what the cost'.

'Geoconsult entered the contract with their eyes open,' said prosecution barrister Hugh Carlisle QC. 'And they were paid good oney for it.'

Cresswell advised the jury to focus on the conflict between former Institution of Civil Engineers president Sir Alan Muir Wood and the German tunnelling expert Professor Reinhard Rokahr over the cause of the collapse (see right).

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