Cricklewood man died in work accident eight years ago

Inquest finds Lee Shepherd suffocated at work before being chopped up by machinery

A YOUNG man who vanished eight years-ago without a trace died at work following a tragic accident an inquest ruled last week.

Lee Sheppard, who lived in Cricklewood Lane, Cricklewood, suffocated after climbing into a piece of machinery at the fridge recycling plant he worked at in Scrubs Lane, Harlesden, on January 31, 2003.

However no trace of the 26-year-old New Zealander’s body was ever found after colleagues switched on equipment that chopped fridges into thousands of pieces later that day.

His wife Juliet, who gave birth to his son, Jayden, in 2003, said Lee, who was a supervisor at European Metal Recycling, had insufficient training to work at the plant.

During the inquest lawyers representing EMR said Lee, who never clocked out that night, may have disappeared over family pressures, been the victim of foul play or even ran off to work in the sex industry.

But the jury heard on the night of Lee’s disappearance there had been a strange blockage in the machinery but colleagues had been too scared to look inside fearing it could be him.

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They were also told Lee was under pressure at work from bosses over output and may have climbed into the equipment to fix a sensor.

It is believed a high level of nitrogen inside, used to prevent combustion of poisonous materials, asphyxiated Lee between 2.30am and 9.15am.

Police investigating at the time took no forensic evidence from the site and abandoned their search until the family hired a private investigator, Ron McQuilter, in 2006.

The case was taken-up in 2008 by Detective Sergeant Andy Goodwin after a new witness came forward suggesting an accident may have occurred at the site.

The two then worked on the case together with McQuilter unusually being allowed to sit in on police interviews.

In an unprecedented move, the inquest was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.

Mrs Sheppard told the court she last spoke to Lee on Friday, January 30, on the phone as he made his way to work for the 11pm to 7am night shift at EMR.

She said how he was happy at the prospect of becoming a father with his last words to her ‘looking forward to seeing you, love you bye”.

After the ruling Ms Sheppard said: “I’m very pleased with the outcome. I always believed Lee wouldn’t have just run off. I believe that the truth has prevailed. His son now knows his dad died at work.

“Its time for EMR to acknowledge what happened. The evidence at this inquest showed up strongly that Lee wasn’t trained properly and with no previous experience I’m sure it contributed to the accident.”

DS Goodwin, the investigating officer of Barnet’s missing persons unit, defended the police’s role in the early investigation saying all lines of enquiry were considered.

He went on to pay credit to the Sheppard family for their determination in uncovering the truth.

He said: “Throughout my involvement in this case. I have been humbled by the Sheppard family.

“Their desire for an answer to Lee’s disappearance has motivated me in particular over the past two years.

I hope that the conclusion of this inquest allows the family some closure and to move on and begin to remember their much loved husband, son and brother.”

After the inquest at North London Coroners Court, in Barnet, finished on Friday, February 25, the family said they would consult lawyers over any possible claim for compensation.

A spokeswoman for EMR would only say: “We recognise that at the centre of this Inquest is a family seeking answers as to what has happened to a much loved family member eight years ago and we sympathise deeply with this most difficult of situations.

“The Hearing has run over 15 days and covered some very complex issues. We acknowledge the findings of the jury and we will need time to reflect on this before making any further comment.”

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