A “neighbour from hell” caused a gas explosion which killed a two-year-old boy after cutting a gas pipe to sell for scrap metal, a court has heard.
Darren Greenham, 45, used an angle grinder to cut the pipe in the early hours of May 16 last year, causing the huge explosion which killed George Hinds, whose family lived in the neighbouring property in Mallowdale Avenue, Heysham, Lancashire, Preston Crown Court heard on Tuesday.
George’s father Stephen Hinds told the court: “By Darren Greenham cutting a gas pipe to make a few quid I have lost my son, my absolute world.”
He said Greenham, who was dependent on alcohol and drugs, made the lives of his neighbours a “misery” and would play music until the early hours and insult George.
Mr Hinds, who wore a blue Paw Patrol tie and took a Paw Patrol toy into the witness box with him, said: “It makes my blood boil now, I always did the right thing and reported it to the council and the police, nothing was ever done.”
In a statement, George’s mother Vicki Studholme said she felt “unsafe” in her home because of Greenham, a “neighbour from hell” who she said made threats of violence towards her, her husband and their son.
She said: “I do feel that although we reported this countless times we have been let down by the council and the police, and the death of my beautiful baby boy could have been avoided.”
She added: “After the explosion, being trapped in the rubble was the most scared I had ever been in my life.
“This was until I arrived at the hospital to be told that George had died.
“Never, ever have I felt so scared as in that moment of my life.”
The court heard that the explosion at 2.36am destroyed the Lancashire County Council-owned property Greenham lived in and severely damaged the two neighbouring terraced houses. A total of 55 properties in the area were damaged.
He had been removing every bit of pipework he could for weeks before, seemingly because he knew he was going and he wanted to make what he could from selling it as scrap
Timothy Cray KC
Timothy Cray KC, prosecuting, said that at the time of the explosion the council was considering taking eviction proceedings after a number of complaints about Greenham’s behaviour.
He said: “He had been removing every bit of pipework he could for weeks before, seemingly because he knew he was going and he wanted to make what he could from selling it as scrap.”
The court heard the gas meter in the property had been altered so Greenham could receive gas without paying for it.
A report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the explosion found wooden floorboards had been removed from the first floor landing of the house and gas pipes had been cut deliberately.
The blast was likely to have happened 20 to 40 minutes after they were cut and there would have been a strong smell of gas and an audible noise before that, the report said.
Peter Glenser KC, defending, said Greenham was sober for the first time in “many, many years” since being in custody awaiting sentence.
He said: “With that sobriety has come a clarity and an insight that he didn’t have through all his years of drink and drugs, and that clarity and insight has enabled him to see for the first time what terrible harm he has caused.”
Greenham, who suffered a serious head injury and lost most of the use of his right hand in the blast, pleaded guilty in August to manslaughter, damaging a gas meter and theft of gas.
He will be sentenced on Wednesday.