Two businessmen who poisoned a man to death with lethal carbon monoxide fumes as they cut corners in a ‘cavalier pursuit for profit’ at a convenience store have been jailed for a total of 17 years.
Shopkeeper Shafaq Khan, 50, and 51-year old property landlord Mushtaq Ahmed had illegally hooked up a petrol powered generator to power fridges and lighting at the shop after their electricity supply was cut off.
But the overloaded PRAMAC generator which was left running in a storeroom spouted the deadly fumes into an upstairs rented flat where hotel porter Joao Afonso was sleeping.
The 58-year old was overcome and was found dead the next day by a work colleague.
Investigations revealed Khan, from Rochdale and Ahmed, from Oldham, had repeatedly ignored warnings not to use the generator in a ‘cavalier pursuit for profit.’
Shopkeeper Shafaq Khan, 50 (left), and 51-year old property landlord Mushtaq Ahmed (right) who poisoned a man to death with lethal carbon monoxide fumes whilst they cut corners at a convenience store to save money were jailed for manslaughter on Friday
The overloaded PRAMAC generator which was left running in a storeroom spouted the deadly fumes into an upstairs rented flat where hotel porter Joao Afonso (pictured) was sleeping
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, both men were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence and various contraventions of health and safety laws following a trial.
Khan was jailed for eight years and Ahmed was imprisoned for nine years.
The victim, who moved to the UK in 2014, worked at the four-star Midland Hotel in Manchester.
He had originally been a fisherman in his hometown on the island of St. Thomas; a Portuguese colony off the coast of Gabon in West Africa.
He moved into a bedsit at a large five bedroomed property owned by Ahmed in Wood Street, Middleton, Greater Manchester.
The property was above the ‘Who’Da Thowt It’ convenience store run by Khan in a converted pub below – which was also rented from Ahmed.
The tragic event took place in September 2017 after the electricity board cut off the supply at Khan’s shop when an inspection revealed the meter had been illegally bypassed from elsewhere.
The court heard wires at the mains were exposed, live and charred and would have electrocuted anyone who touched them.
Nicholas Clarke QC prosecuting said: ‘Mr Khan was told the electricity supply for the shop had been disconnected on safety grounds but this angered him and he complained he had a business to run. He was clearly focusing only on his own needs and showing no consideration for those living in the flats above the shop.’
Tenants arrived home from work found their electricity was not working and spoke to Ahmed who assured them it would be reconnected the next day. But Khan then rang a tool hire firm in Oldham and asked for a generator.
Pictured: The botched mains supply which led to the tragedy. The court heard wires at the mains were exposed, live and charred and would have electrocuted anyone who touched them
Pictured: The ‘Who’da Thowt it’ convenience store in Middleton, Greater Manchester where the tragedy occurred in 2017
Mr Clarke added: ‘He said his shop had no power and wanted to run lights and fridges off the generator.
‘Shop staff explained that he could only run the lights from the generator as the fridges would cause the generator to overload but the caller insisted he wanted a generator to run his lights and fridges. Furthermore, he was unhappy at the suggestion he would have to pay a £200 deposit.
‘He did eventually say that he would only use it for the lights. Both defendants knew the electricity was off and they were together trying to find a way of getting it back on without going through the electricity supplier.
‘They appeared determined to cut corners at every stage and find the cheapest way of getting electricity back into the shop and flats, ignoring the unsuitability of the generator hired and the way it was to be connected or where it was to be used, just as they had ignored the risk of fire or electrocution that bypassing the meter had caused in the first place. ‘
That afternoon Khan and Ahmed were seen at the shop and were said to be ‘messing about’ with the generator as the premises was in darkness.
The QC said Ahmed was seen using a screwdriver to connect it the mains whilst customers could smell the fumes.
He added: ‘Both defendants were only concerned about running the refrigerators and restoring power to the flats without any thought to the obvious hazards of what they were doing.
‘They were actually creating more danger, as they were plugging the generator into the mains for the building – which is in itself extremely dangerous. What they were not doing was any risk assessment. As a result of what they did there were risks of fire, electrocution and of course poisoning through the deadly gas that was being produced.’
‘Eventually the defendants got the generator running and they then put it in the storeroom at the back of the shop and shut the door. The lights and fridges were then working, being powered by the generator. Mr Khan and Mr Ahmed left. One of the tenants could smell the fumes and wisely that night went to spend the night at her mother’s.
‘It wasn’t a simple mistake or error of judgement to keep the shop open with the use of the generator, to ignore the warning labels on the generator and do nothing to rehouse the tenants. These were all wilful acts with the intention of cutting corners to make or save money.
‘Both defendants showed complete indifference to the serious risk to the life not just of Mr Afonso, but to any person connected with the property whether as tenant, employee, customer or any other person visiting the building. Given their cavalier attitude to the safety of Mr Afonso, or indeed anybody else that might have been endangered by what they were doing, their dereliction of duty was criminal.’
58-year old Afonso was overcome and was found dead the next day by a work colleague. Investigations revealed Khan of Rochdale and Ahmed of Oldham had repeatedly ignored warnings not to use the generator (pictured) in a ‘cavalier pursuit for profit’
That evening electricians attended with a view to restoring the supply to the flats and noticed the mains had been tampered with. They refused to switch on the power to the shop but were duped into reconnecting electricity to the flats after being a shown a meter upstairs. They were unaware of the generator running in the storeroom.
Mr Afonso’s body was found the following afternoon by a concerned work colleague who had tried in vain to contact him. Police called to the property heard the sound the generator operating inside the building and smelt petrol exhaust fumes and noticed all but one of the windows nearby were boarded up.
Khan and Ahmed were in the shop and led a detective to the storeroom when he had to take a gulp of air in the shop and hold his breath due to the ‘overpowering and thick smell of petrol fumes.’ The generator was making a sound as if a car engine was being revved in neutral and an extractor fan in the room was broken and covered in dust.
Tests showed the level of carbon monoxide in Mr Afonso’s blood was 55 percent.
Ahmed later admitted plugging the generator’s power straight into the mains but denied criminal responsibility and blamed Khan. Khan claimed he ‘did not owe any duty of care’ towards Mr Afonso and suggested the risk to him was ‘not foreseeable.’ He said it was Ahmed’s responsibility to ensure the safety of the tenants upstairs.
For Khan, Michael Hayton QC said: ‘He wanted the shop to keep running, so he hired a generator. He did not deliberately act to save money and did not think there would be a knock-on effect on others. This was poor judgement.
‘This was a corner shop being run on a short term basis out of a misguided sense of loyalty to his son’s needs and concerns. In over thirty years of working, he has always met a satisfactory standard of care towards others.’
For Ahmed, Leonard Smith QC said: ‘To cause somebody’s else’s death, for him personally, has been terrible. Mr Afonso was his favourite tenant. This man has suffered and will continue to suffer. He is contrite and remorseful.’