THOSE responsible for the demolition of Didcot Power Station have been told they have ‘questions to answer' over safety, as terrified observers said they feared they could have died.

At least three people were injured when the towers came down at the Sutton Courtenay site on Sunday morning, after flying debris caused overhead cables lines to burst into flame.

The mother of a three year-old hurt at the scene has called for an investigation into what happened but agreed that the incident was a ‘freak accident’.

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Both the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, and her daughter, had some of their hair singed after the demolition of the cooling towers by Brown & Mason Limited (B&M), on behalf of RWE.

She said: “It needs investigating, but the exclusion zone seemed like a safe distance. None of the debris flew towards us.”

In a letter sent to residents last month, RWE project manager Tiernan Foley ‘actively discouraged all forms of public participation’ and said the demolition had been ‘carefully planned over several months’.

Oxford Mail:

However, questions are being raised about the safety measures taken and whether the exclusion zone was large enough – as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said a formal investigation could be launched.

The district and county councillor for the area, Sutton Courtenay’s Richard Webber, said questions must now be answered.

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He said: “I think it is incredibly disappointing that there has been a problem again.

“Flying debris isn’t something anyone can be proud of and we do need to find out exactly what happened.

“There is one more tower to go and we don’t want any more accidents.”

He stressed that the companies involved were "very sensible and cautious", but added there were "certainly questions that need answering".

Oxford Mail:

His county colleague for nearby Didcot Ladygrove, Neville Harris, expressed deep regret about a previous accident in February 2016, when four workers – Christopher Huxtable, Kenneth Cresswell, John Shaw and Michael Collings – died after the partial collapse of the boiler house at the Didcot A plant.

When asked about people attending this time around Mr Harris added: “We have got an expectation that things like this are done correctly.”

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HSE spokesman Dan Edwards said the organisation was carrying out "initial enquiries with the relevant dutyholders to gain a better understanding of the circumstances leading up to the failure of two overhead power lines".

He added: “When sufficient information is available, a decision will be made as to whether a formal investigation is required.”

In a statement, B&M stressed that the incident took place "well within the safe exclusion zone" and that "at no time did any debris leave the zone".

Oxford Mail:

The company added: “All aspects of the demolition are currently undergoing a thorough investigation by all of the interested parties involved. This investigation will be conducted as quickly as possible but until all of the facts are known and established, there will be no further comments or speculation.”

A number of people who watched the demolition, defended the company.

Adele Frankum said: “I was there and not far from the pylon that caught fire. I think we were at a safe distance from the towers. It was just an accident.

“It wasn’t meant to happen and no one could have known that would happen. That's where we chose to watch… it was my responsibility as the adult to go where we did.”

Another, Vicki Lee, said the company was not to blame, but added: “When you see a pylon explode above your head, with flames and blue sparks flying out....and to then see people screaming and running in fear… I’m sure I speak for nearly everyone that was in that field under the pylon: we thought that was it for us.

“It could have ended in fatalities. The fear on people’s faces is something that will stick.”

South Central Ambulance Service have said that it treated three people, with one being taken to hospital with minor injuries.

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Thom Airs, from Dorchester, who was also on the scene, said the demolition itself "seemed to go really well" and that the exclusion zone "seemed appropriate and safe".

But, he added: “I've seen some people suggest that those power cables should have been temporarily disabled during the demolition, and, with the benefit of hindsight, that seems a pretty sensible suggestion to me.”

Some have been less charitable, suggesting people were hurt "because someone didn't do their job properly".

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) said it would conduct its own internal review.

Oxford Mail:

Spokesman Alexis Hill explained: “During the demolition, a large section of debris protection material became detached from one of the cooling towers and made contact with our 33kV overhead line, which was outside of the advised perimeter.

“Power was fully restored to the 40,000 customers affected by 8.20am.”

RWE spokeswoman Kelly Nye said: "We are not aware of debris from the demolition of the cooling towers leaving the safety exclusion zone. It is necessary to get further information from all parties involved. 

"We are also interested in the results of a wider investigation which is going on to find out what has happened in Sutton Courtenay on the local electricity network."

Three other towers at the site were demolished in 2014, after it had ceased operating the year before. The final chimney is expected to be demolished in early autumn.