Monks take heating firm to court for chapel asbestos cloud

Monks sued a heating firm

AN ORDER of monks turned from the rule of God to the judgment of the courtroom after engineers unleashed a cloud of asbestos into their ancient chapel.

The Order of Friars Minor sued a heating firm for £35,000 when workers battered two holes in a wall of their Edinburgh base.

Staff at Lothian Heating Services had spent a week installing a new heating system before they noticed an asbestos warning in the monks’ toilet.

The Health and Safety Executive were called in and work had to stop immediately so the dangerous material could be disposed of.

Members of the religious group from the city’s Craigmillar area usually spend their time praying and carrying out charity work.

But they became embroiled in a legal action at Edinburgh Sheriff Court to recover the £35,000 they splashed out making their building safe again.

The monks claimed workers failed to check whether asbestos was present in the building ahead of work to replace the chapel’s heating system.

And as well as complaining about the release of the asbestos the monks also said the structure of their building was left unsound when the workmen tore the holes in the wall.

The monks have remained tight-lipped about the outcome of the case, although a joint minute agreeing a settlement was due to be lodged with the court this month, according to officials.

Lodged legal papers said friar Father Collins entered into a contract with the heating firm in February 2007 on behalf of the order.

The deal was for the design, supply and installation of a heating system for the chapel.

The company was also commissioned to remove the existing heating system.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the monks claimed company employee Gordon Arthur carried out a site-investigation ahead of the work.

But he made no enquiries about asbestos during the visit, they claimed.

Then on May 17 that year the firm’s employees created a large access hole through the wall from the boiler house of the building to facilitate the removal of old pipes.

The pipes had asbestos insulation material attached to them.

The company’s actions “resulted in asbestos being released in the air of the premises causing contamination,” the lawyers said.

According to the order’s legal team the firm’s employees worked on the boiler room and the building’s laundry room, but were “unaware that there was any asbestos present”.

Then on May 24 one of the employees noticed an asbestos warning sticker “by chance” in the male toilets on the ground floor of the property.

The workers then spoke to Father Anthony about the “possible presence” of the asbestos.

Father Anthony told them there was an asbestos register and provided them with a copy. From this the company “ascertained that they had unknowingly been working with dangerous asbestos”.

The matter was then reported to the Health and Safety Executive and work stopped.

The structure of the property was also in danger as a result of the firm’s poor workmanship, the monks’ lawyers said.

The actions of the employees “caused damage to a structural wall”, they said. “This had potential to cause structural damage to the premises due to an absence of the proper support and propping,” they added.

However, lawyers acting for the firm said a survey was commissioned by the monks in 2005 to establish the presence of asbestos.

The substance was found in several locations and a report recommended the material should be removed by a licensed contractor prior to the start of any refurbishment or demolition programme.

The firm’s legal teams said it was the responsibility of the monks to provide details of the location and condition of asbestos.

Previous Lothian Heating Services clients have included Edinburgh Castle, where they installed several gas meters and Edinburgh Zoo, where they installed heating systems in the sun bear enclosure.

The company has also carried out extensive work on several Edinburgh University buildings.

They have also had several churches as clients, including Church of the Good Shepherd in Murrayfield.

A statement on the company’s website says: “A family-run business, we pride ourselves on the quality of our customer service and our commitment to keeping abreast of all the latest technology and working practices within the industry.

“Our aim is to provide a friendly, dependable service of the highest calibre and our client list of mainly long-standing customers is testament to our reputation.”

The company also declined to comment on the case.