Boss admits ‘serious’ apprentice bullying

A construction apprentice was systematically bullied for more than a year before reckless Adelaide building site supervisors set him alight with flammable liquid, a court has heard.

In a landmark prosecution, Luke Daniel Chenoweth, 28, and Jeffrey Mark Rowe, 47, have each admitted unlawfully attacking the teenage apprentice more than two years ago.

The Advertiser revealed in April how SafeWork SA had launched the SA-first case against the sacked northern suburbs pair and their former employer, Tad-Mar Electrical Pty Ltd.

 

Luke Daniel Chenoweth after facing a bullying prosecution by Safework SA on Wednesday. Picture: Brenton Edwards
Luke Daniel Chenoweth after facing a bullying prosecution by Safework SA on Wednesday. Picture: Brenton Edwards

 

Chenoweth, of Hillbank, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to the "most serious" health and safety offence during construction of a BUPA aged care facility, on Woodville Rd, Woodville.

He faces up to five years in jail as well as a maximum $300,000 fine for his "reckless conduct and intimidation".

Rowe, of Parafield Gardens, was convicted and fined more than $13,000 in May after pleading guilty to his charges.

On Wednesday, the Industrial Court heard how the apprentice was the victim of a "power imbalance" that resulted in him being systematically bullied for months.

The court heard the Holden Hill based-firm had a "culture of horseplay and hijinks", which the attacker claimed he was also a victim of.

Prosecutors said the incidents against the victim included him being assaulted, tied to a ladder with duct tape, having "pods" thrown down his T-shirt and having silicon poured over his face.

The court heard he was also drawn on with permanent marker, was locked in a shipping container, was not given medical treatment when injured and suffered "frequent" verbal abuse.

Crown Prosecutor Laura Willows, for SafeWork SA, said the victimisation culminated on the morning of March 25, 2017, after the apprentice had taken McDonalds lunch orders.

Luke Daniel Chenoweth.
Luke Daniel Chenoweth.

As Chenoweth listened in the public gallery's front row while holding his head in his hands, Ms Willows laid bare the pair's "serious" violence.

The victim, who had started work at 6.30am, was sitting alone when his bosses suddenly lit a piece of paper using flammable liquid in a plastic bottle.

Sensing he was in danger, he hurried to leave just before 11am, but Chenoweth - holding a lighter - chased him around the lunchroom and squirted his boots, then his crotch area.

"At this point (the victim) became particularly scared, he was scared he (Chenoweth) was going to set fire to his pants," she said.

The attacker then set fire to the apprentice's shirt, but he managed to quickly extinguish it and escaped serious injury.

Martin Anders, defending, said his client was a "good young man" who was deeply remorseful, co-operative and had no chance of reoffending.

SafeWork SA Chief Martyn Campbell. Picture: Matt Loxton
SafeWork SA Chief Martyn Campbell. Picture: Matt Loxton

He said Chenoweth, who wrote an apology letter to the judge, had also been a bullying victim as a teenage apprentice and had wanted to "fit in" with colleagues.

Blaming Rowe, he said a conviction would cause job problems with his current resources company employer, which pays him $120,000 a year.

"He fell into line with this conduct because he believed by doing so he would insulate himself from that unwanted attention," he said.

"And regrettably with this offending he was the victim turned into a perpetrator."

Providing glowing references, he said he came from a loving family and was a hard worker with an impeccable work history

The victim did not attend Wednesday's hearing because he was overseas on his honeymoon, the court heard.

Deputy President Magistrate Stuart Cole reserved his sentence. Chenoweth refused comment outside court. Tad-Mar Electrical's case was adjourned for a fortnight.

 

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Jeffrey Mark Rowe.
Jeffrey Mark Rowe.