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BOHS and the fraudster of 'impeccable character'

March 23, 2011

You would be forgiven for thinking that in order to be an asbestos surveyor you are legally required to be BOHS (P402 etc) or UKAS accredited.

This is most likely due to the fact that much of the guidance issued by the HSE was compiled with the help of these very organisations and, unsurprisingly, leans heavily towards recommending their own schemes as a ‘minimum standard requirement’.

In recent news, a BOHS and UKAS accredited surveyor based in Redditch was sentenced and fined after failing to identify over 1000m2  of asbestos insulation board, resulting in the spread of asbestos during demolition and exposure to workers on site. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. At Asbestos Watchdog we have received many complaints regarding the activities of similarly accredited surveyors, many of them were reported to the HSE, who failed to take any action, seemingly protecting the organisations with which they enjoy a rather special relationship.

It is only when you look closely at the law and relevant HSE guidance that you see that it is not, in fact, a legal requirement to hold these specific qualifications and that surveyors are free to implement alternative protocols. Whilst the HSE’s guidance does reluctantly state that “The P402 qualification on its own does not demonstrate competency” the result of this heavily biased document is that duty holders seeking to employ a competent surveyor will assume that these qualifications are sufficient. In announcing the closure of its ABICS scheme in October 2010, BOHS stated that “ It was recognised many years ago that there are individual asbestos surveyors who are competent but who operate as sole traders or in small companies outside UKAS accredited organisations, and who are not likely to apply for UKAS accreditation for commercial reasons”.

The Asbestos Watchdog’s own commercial arm, J & S Bridle Associates Ltd, with  Professor John Bridle as its principal inspector, is one such company that implements a slightly alternative protocol to that taught by BOHS. During the consultation process for the HSE’s guidance protocols, J&S Bridle Associates Ltd raised concerns over the use of the ‘risk score algorithm’ which is essentially a management tool for dummies. This algorithm allows a surveyor to apply numbers to various factors and then the total, if above a certain number, determines the recommendation they give. This is frequently abused by surveyors seeking larger commissions from the removal contractors they recommend and is the subject of thousands of enquiries received by the Asbestos Watchdog from clients brought to near bankruptcy by implementing these sometimes wholly unnecessary management suggestions. This algorithm is no substitute for an experienced surveyor’s knowledge and common sense approach to the sometimes considerable onsite factors when undertaking risk assessments.

Duty holders in the UK would be wise to place a higher importance on their chosen surveyors experience rather than any so called accreditations that they possess. Neither experience nor qualifications guarantee honestly and it is always worth checking that the recommendations you have been given are absolutely necessary before taking any action.

The story surrounding the HSE and BOHS’s involvement in bringing criminal prosecutions against John Bridle is so shocking that it beggars belief. To do this story justice we must travel back to before the ban on white asbestos was introduced in 1999. Following a meeting between Bridle and the HSE, where Bridle requested a derogation on the ban on white asbestos, the HSE disclosed some sensitive information to one of Bridle’s competitors in the asbestos cement slate industry.

Embarrassed by this, and by way of compensation, the then head of the HSE, Timothy Walker told Bridle that he could arrange for him to obtain a P402 qualification as this was set to become the new industry recognised standard for asbestos surveyors. Despite the fact that the course instructor’s knowledge of asbestos paled in comparison to Bridle’s and even though Bridle refused to use the risk score algorithm, he took the exam and passed with flying colours.

In the meantime, at a further meeting with the HSE, the derogation on the ban that Bridle had requested was accepted. Upon leaving this meeting, John Thompson, Deputy Head of the HSE was so enraged by the decision that he poked Bridle in the chest and said, in front of witnesses, that he would regret interfering. Within six weeks of this meeting, no less than seven criminal prosecutions were brought against Bridle by the Vale of Glamorgan Trading Standards for breaches of the Trades Description Act. Five of these charges were immediately dismissed by the court as being spurious but 2 charges remained. One charge was concerning a letter that Bridle had sent to the BOHS themselves seeking clarification as to whether or not he could now use the P402 lettering, on which he added the P402 lettering in question to the bottom of the letter. The other was a letter that he had sent to the Trading Standards office in relation to this alleged offense, on which he also added the P402 lettering by way of an example.

In a twist so unbelievable that John Grisham would have trouble imagining it, Bridle’s solicitor David Barratt of J A Hughes Solicitors in Barry, who was later struck off, told Bridle over the phone whilst he was away lecturing in America, that the charges had been dropped but then, unbelievably, attended the court alone to plead guilty against Bridle’s instructions. Barratt not only lied to the Judge about the sudden change of plea but he also lied to the judge that Bridle had suffered a heart attack and could not attend the court.

When Bridle returned to the understandably shocking local news reports about his false conviction an appeal was requested and immediately granted. The Judge, so confused by the entire issue, settled on what he thought was a compromise. He found Bridle technically guilty of using the letters ‘recklessly’ and although he was not seeking to obtain business through this, both letters were issued ‘during the course of a trade or business’.

The Judge stated that Bridle was of ‘impeccable character’, without previous conviction and at no time had attempted to deceive or cheat anyone. He was given a conditional discharge for 2 years and received a zero fine, but was ordered to pay the prosecutions costs of £4000.

Many inaccurate versions of this case have been circulated on the internet as part of a continued and contrived effort to discredit Bridle’s reputation for exposing the vested interests behind the great asbestos deception. The HSE who could have confirmed to the court that Bridle had been given verbal permission to use this qualification said that they had ‘lost the notes from these meetings’. The lengths that these conspirators have gone to, to discredit this whistleblower is truly unbelievable. John Bridle is at least grateful that whilst his reputation has been brought into question, his kneecaps are still intact.

Asbestos Watchdog

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