Construction company employee savaged by dog says he will 'never work again'
PUBLISHED: 10:00 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:55 22 May 2019
A chef who suffered life-changing injuries while working for a prominent Royal Docks construction company tells today of how he has been left "broken" with no support from the firm.
Christophe Stanic, 39 was knocked to the ground and savaged by a German Shepherd on the Corbyn Construction site on Albert Island in April 2017.
The 39-year-old has since privately spent more than £47,500 on spinal surgery and been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and claims to still be owed back-pay from Corbyn.
The firm, which has been based in Newham for more than 25 years, was subject to a ten-month police investigation over the incident while the Health and Safety Executive and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority also visited the site in October. Neither group took any further action.
But the Recorder has been told:
- Bosses at Corbyn failed to call London Ambulance Service on the day of the attack and later told lawyers they had no record of Mr Stanic's employment;
- In the aftermath of the incident, management at Corbyn discussed having the dog put down "to be ahead of the police";
- At least one crucial x-ray at Newham General Hospital was not carried out, meaning Mr Stanic later paid tens of thousands of pounds for medical treatment;
- Kitchen staff at Gallions Hotel, the firm's official headquarters, were working 90-hour weeks at the time while the injured employee worked a seven-day week within a month of the attack;
- There is evidence to suggest that at one stage, people were living informally in a depot inside the Albert Island facility.
Corbyn Construction specialises in groundworks and reinforced concrete (RC) frames for building contractors, private developers and housing associations in London.
Its recent projects include work for the Stratford Edge housing development off Stratford High Street and the Brunel Street Works development in Canning Town.
Last year the group's parent company Corbyn Holdings Ltd reported an overall turnover of £60million and an operating profit of just over £2m.
According to a signed letter of employment seen by the Recorder, Mr Stanic, a French national who previously worked as a private chef in Las Vegas, was working in April 2017 at the Corbyn-owned Gallions Hotel as a sous chef.
At the time, he said, he had been living in a building at the back of the firm's concrete batching facility in Albert Island as part of an informal arrangement with management.
He showed the Recorder a video of the premises and the inside of the warehouse, in which a room that includes a bed strewn with his belongings looks out onto the cranes below.
On the day of the dog attack, he said, he had crossed the Albert Island site as normal to begin the 15-minute walk to the hotel in Albert Basin Way.
He told the Recorder: "I'll remember it for the rest of my life. The director's brother-in-law was on the compound, and I said hi to him. Thirty seconds later I was at the gate, and the dog was out of its cage and behind me.
"The dog lunged at my face and tried to bite me. I protected myself with my backpack. I fell flat on my back; I felt paralysed from the fall. It also bit my shoulder. I had a huge chunk of flesh torn out. It finally let go and I had to crawl to the gate."
Hospital records show Mr Stanic arrived at Newham University Hospital on April 10 at 5.48pm.
He was booked for an x-ray at 9pm but this was still marked as "pending" when he was discharged at 10.04pm.
The week after the incident Mr Stanic was called with a colleague to a meeting with the director of Corbyn Construction Ltd, Michael Cusack.
At the meeting, the Recorder understands Mr Cusack told him: "You are so unlucky, man. I'm sorry that this happened. It's happened now, so we have to try and find the best way out of it that we can."
He also acknowledged that Mr Stanic and colleagues had been working 80- to 90-hour weeks without an agreed salary, adding: "We haven't organised what rates you're on. Now I've got to pay you and I've got to pay him [another colleague] and nobody is getting any rest. It's a bad position to be in."
He also admitted: "The dog shouldn't have been allowed off the lead. We have to get rid of the dog. Police will only insist on the same so we want to be ahead of the police. The dog was doing his job and we failed to control him."
A restaurant schedule dated May 2017 indicates that within a month Mr Stanic was back to working a seven-day week at Galyons Bar & Grill.
This included stints in the kitchen from 10.30am to 1am on Wednesday, May 3, and 10.30am to 2am on Thursday, March 4.
Due to not having had the x-ray at Newham General Hospital, at the time, Mr Stanic said, he did not realise he was working with a fractured spine.
He lost his job in May and at the time had been paid £900 in cash, but said he believes based on the hours he worked he could be owed up to £4,000 more.
On asking Mr Cusack for the rest of his money by text, he received the response: "What have I got from you".
In a subsequent conversation, Mr Cusack told him: "I understand you made me no money but I shouldn't take the cost of that. You haven't lived up to what I expected you to live up to... It doesn't matter to me what you have worked. I'm not going to pay you for failure, I can't afford it."
On eventually returning to the USA, Mr Stanic had an x-ray and learned he had a spine fracture and four herniated discs, which he said he believed was made worse by working in the kitchen.
To date he has spent €54,790 - or around £47,500 - on five artificial disc replacement surgeries at the Barcelona Spine Center, as well as medication and physical therapy.
The money came from Mr Stanic's personal savings as well as loans from friends and family, and from a private bank. Last year he was also diagnosed with PTSD.
He told the Recorder: "This was a horrible experience. It changed my whole life; I'm practically bankrupt now and I'll never get back to where I was before the accident.
"My whole spine is broken. I have nerve damage all the way to my legs I can not work or stand for longer than ten minutes.
"When it hurts, it hurts really badly. I feel stiff every day and I have to stretch every two hours. I am not able to sleep through the night and often experience great anxiety.
"I don't think I will ever be able to work again. I didn't get any compensation or any support from Corbyn.
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"I came to England not expecting anything like this. You feel you're safe in a country like the UK and when something like this happens you realise it's not true. Then when the police did nothing about it and the authorities did nothing about it, that was worse."
Almost a year after the incident the Metropolitan Police were informed of what had happened and the report was picked up by officers at Forest Gate Police Station.
During the course of investigations, police told Mr Stanic they understood that bosses had called an ambulance for him on the day of the attack.
But London Ambulance Service told the Recorder it has no record of a call being placed from that location on the day.
The Met investigation was eventually closed after ten months, but as of March 28 a complaint into the way the case was handled is being dealt with by officers at Stratford.
The Recorder understands a Facebook post was shared with police in which another Gallions Hotel employee said Mr Stanic "got what he deserved", adding: "police said the same".
A Met spokesman said: "An allegation of a dog being dangerously out of control and injuring a man was received by police on February 2, 2018. An investigation was carried out including interviewing potential witnesses. In December 2018, a decision was made to take no further action.
"A public complaint was received on March 28. This is currently under investigation by the Met's Professional Standards Department."
Both the Health and Safety Executive and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority also visited the site on October 30, 2018 over an allegation of modern slavery which was not substantiated.
A GLAA spokesman said: "We conducted an investigation which is now closed. From a modern slavery perspective, no issues were discovered and no further allegations were made."
In March 2018 lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Stanic said they had been told the company had no record of his having been an employee, although he had a signed letter stating he was.
Another Corbyn Construction-branded letter states that Mr Stanic was living at Gallions Hotel, but he insisted he had actually been living on the Albert Island site along with other employees.
He told the Recorder: "I had never worked for a construction company before and the housing on the compound was awful. There was no heating, and the noise from the cranes I couldn't believe. On the second floor they had all their construction tools and there was a lot of dust.
"There were other people living there who were from eastern Europe. I was supposed to stay there for a month at most."
Another ex-Corbyn worker, who asked not to be named, told the Recorder they believed seven to 10 people had sometimes stayed on the site during the week.
They said: "The place was like a depot. Guys were sleeping there in rooms and some of the construction workers were living there as well.
"We were passing by the dog cage every single day and we didn't want to. It's not a small place; it's very dangerous."
In the conversation after the dog attack, Mr Cusack also appeared to acknowledge Mr Stanic was living there, saying: "The thing is that you shouldn't be there. I put you over there so you could get on your feet; it's a problem for me because you shouldn't be in there."
According to emails seen by the Recorder, when HSE visited last October officers found both a husky and a German shepherd were still patrolling the site.
On a visit to Gallions Point on May 13 and 14, we saw one guard dog in a cage next to the site office, with warning signs posted across the premises.
What happens next?
Newham General Hospital said it could not comment on individual cases but invited Mr Stanic to make a formal complaint over the failure to carry out an x-ray in 2017.
A Barts Health NHS Trust spokeswoman said: "We are sorry to hear about the health problems Mr Stanic has experienced. The safe and compassionate care of our patients is of utmost importance to us at Newham Hospital.
"We take any concerns raised by patients seriously and invite Mr Stanic to contact our Patient Advice and Liaison team (PALS) so that we can further discuss this with him."
The Greater London Authority (GLA) is the landlord for the whole of the Albert Island site and the surrounding area facing onto Albert Basin.
A spokesman said: "The GLA takes any allegations of this nature very seriously. These alleged offences have no place in our city or anywhere in the world.
"The GLA has liaised with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority who confirmed that they did visit the site but found no evidence of slavery. Their investigation has now been closed."
Last November Corbyn received full planning permission from Newham Council to keep using the Albert Island site indefinitely as a concrete batching facility.
We approached the director of Corby Construction Michael Cusack for comment last week but he declined to respond to any questions put to him, including whether he recalled Mr Stanic's employment, the sleeping arrangements or the incident taking place, or if Corbyn might consider contributing to his medical bills.
He also declined to say whether further measures were in place to control the German Shepherd on the site, or if construction workers on Albert Island should be wearing hard hats.
Last year Corbyn uploaded a modern slavery statement to its website, which says it has a "zero tolerance approach" to modern slavery in the business or supply chain.
The statement, signed by the board in July 2018, applies to the whole of the parent company and subsidiaries.
It says the company is "committed to acting ethically and with integrity and transparency in all business dealings and to putting effective systems and controls in place to safeguard against modern slavery".
Elsewhere on its website, Corbyn says it has "a high emphasis on health and safety" with any problems dealt with "quickly and efficiently".
It adds: "Here at Corbyn our reputation means everything to us and we work hard to maintain it. This fact is recognised by our many clients that have used us repeatedly over the years."