Zac Cox’s relatives have waited 10 months for official account of why he died in accident at Khalifa stadium
A 10-month effort to find out how a Briton was killed while building Qatar’s Khalifa stadium for the World Cup has been met with a wall of silence from the Qatari authorities and multinational building contractors, leaving his relatives distraught and angry.
Zac Cox died in January after he fell 40 metres when his safety equipment failed. His family have been told that a report containing vital information about the circumstances of his death exists, but it has not been passed on to them or the British coroner investigating his death.
This week, the coroner lambasted the family’s treatment, which raises questions about how much the Foreign Office has done to force Qatari authorities to explain the reasons for Cox’s death.
The body overseeing the World Cup, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, has never communicated with the family about the accident. The German construction multinational Pfeifer – which was contracted to build the stadium roof walkways on which Cox was working – has also failed to pass on information and respond to family emails setting out their concerns.
The British police have been unable to extract information from an opaque Qatari justice system, or the array of firms involved in the work.
Cox’s wife died in 2015, and his two sisters-in-law, Ella Joseph and Hazel Mayes, have been trying to unearth the truth behind his death.
Joseph told the Guardian: “Ten months on, we still don’t have an official account of why our brother-in-law died and who was responsible. We’ve had no assurance that a horrific incident like this won’t happen again.”
Speaking at the pre-inquest hearing in Brighton, the coroner, Veronica Hamilton-Deeley, said: “It has proved almost impossible to get information. We find ourselves in a most unsatisfactory situation for everyone. If it had been in this country, state agencies would have been investigating his death.
“I understand there are no such agencies in Qatar. Those investigations that have taken place are not available to me so far as Zac’s death is concerned. The family have been told by a reliable source there is a 54-page report into Zac’s death in Qatar which they are trying to gain access to.
“It is almost impossible to get that information from Qatar.”
The results of a postmortem examination in Qatar had not been supplied to the British inquest despite a request, Hamilton-Deeley said.
The coroner agreed on Thursday to the family’s request to defer the closing of the inquest in the hope that more information might finally be released to the family, and levels of co-operation improve.
The family stressed the most important thing for them was to find out how their brother-in-law died and receive assurances that lessons had been learned by those building the football stadiums.
Reference to an inquiry into his death was made in the supreme committee’s second annual human rights report published in June, but it said full details could not be disclosed due to a continuing local authority inquiry.
Cox was working on a suspended catwalk platform on which cameras, sound and lighting could be installed when a lever hoist failed and one end of the catwalk dropped, leaving it hanging. Overloaded, Cox’s lifeline snapped and he fell.
Lever hoists provided by Pfeifer were regarded as high quality. But some of Cox’s colleagues have claimed that as pressure grew to speed up the work extra lever hoists of a lesser quality were provided at short notice by another firm.
Hamilton-Deeley stressed she did not have the remit to attribute any blame for his death. However, she added: “Zac’s death throws a spotlight on wider matters of the building works taking place for the World Cup. I can’t see we will get further information in the forthcoming years or indeed ever.
“There was pressure to speed up work … Insufficient lever hoists were available. So other lever hoists were brought in. It is suggested these other lever hoists were inferior quality and in a poor state of repair.”
Joseph said: “A loved one getting killed at work is always going to be devastating, but when it’s thousands of miles away you also feel utterly helpless. We are completely reliant on getting official information from the inquiries we have been told are under way in Qatar. But we’ve heard nothing – nothing at all from them.”
Efforts to secure an explanation from Pfeifer, including emails seen by the Guardian, have been met with no reply.
Mayes said: “You would expect a major German-based company to be able to fulfil their commitment to update the family and give us basic information. They didn’t do this.” This week the ILO, the international labour standards authority, agreed to drop an inquiry into Qatar’s World Cup labour practices, declaring that employment standards had been reformed.
Human Rights Watch has claimed that more than 300 people have died, largely due to heat and exhaustion, on the project, although the numbers are disputed.
A Pfeifer source said he understood the pain of the family, adding that a Qatari court report on Cox’s death was due to be published soon, probably this month. The case had taken time to complete partly because of the thoroughness of the inquiry, the interruption of Ramadan and the need to seek advice from international experts on the equipment, the source said.
The supreme council has been contacted for comment.