A Gas Safe Register engineer has been jailed for two years for deliberately causing gas escapes in people’s homes in an attempt to undermine a competitor.
Exeter Crown Court heard how Michael O’Brien, of North Down Crescent, Plymouth, trading as M O’Brien Heating, lost a large contract for gas work at Ministry of Defence homes after allowing unauthorised persons on to the site.
Having lost this contract, he then used underhand methods to gather information about where new boilers had been installed on the site by other registered gas engineers.
On 10 February 2018, Mr O’Brien visited three of these homes, using an expired MOD contractor’s pass to gain access, telling the occupiers that he needed to check their gas appliances. He then tampered with gas boilers and gas meters at two properties, deliberately causing gas escapes. One gas escape was directly beneath a child’s bedroom.
Shortly after Mr O’Brien left, one of the residents smelled gas and called Wales & West Utilities, who attended and found a number of gas escapes on the boiler and meter. By chance, the occupier of one of the other homes Mr O’Brien had visited saw the Wales & West Utilities vehicle, and a gas escape was then found at their home as well.
Several days later, and not knowing whether the escapes had been discovered, O’Brien telephoned the contracts manager at the site and enquired whether the workmanship of his competitor was satisfactory, and, if not, whether he could have his contract reinstated. By this time, a joint police and HSE investigation had started.
Through much of the investigation Mr O’Brien denied ever visiting the homes and denied deliberately causing the gas escapes. He eventually pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage that was reckless to life. On 8 March, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Simon Jones said: “Mr O’Brien’s actions were utterly reckless and shocking. He planned his actions over a number of days and was fully aware of what the consequences could have been to the families living at those homes, if the gas leaks he deliberately caused had exploded.
“Michael O’Brien has brought the reputation of the Gas Safe Register into disrepute and has seriously undermined public confidence in the Gas Safe Register registration scheme.”