Builder Denies Trembley Story

Wembley builder Multiplex is rubbishing a Sunday Mirror story that the new Wembley Stadium is in danger of falling down and claiming the article is “concocted.”

An August 28 piece by Michael Duffy said “air bubbles” in the 12 pillars that support the building could make the foundations brittle and cause the structure to collapse. It also said the opening of the stadium could be delayed by up to six months, that failure to install the roof has caused the site to flood whenever it rains, and the builders and sub contractors are in “urgent” talks to solve the problem in time for Wembley to host next year’s F.A. Cup Final.

“There’s going to be an investigation in to how a Sunday Mirror journalist got on site for two days,” explained Lee Findell from Webber Shandwick, which handles Multiplex’s public relations.

He insisted the information in the tabloid paper’s report is “a tissue of lies.”

Findell acknowledges there’s been problems during the £700 million redevelopment of England’s national stadium, but says the paper’s version of events – which quotes an unnamed source referred to as “the whistleblower” – is inaccurate and full of what he describes as “malicious gobbledegook.”

“They feel they have a juicy story and they’re going to run with it, without checking anything,” he complained.

He says the part of the Sunday Mirror report that refers to an “urgent” upcoming meeting between Multiplex and subcontractors to discuss worrying movement in four areas of the stadium is untrue. He admits there were problems with two of the pillars.

“That problem has been fixed and it had nothing to do with air bubbles, which is known as ‘honeycombing,’ and the roof should be in place by the end of September,” he explained.

Findell confirmed the government’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has visited the site and made some recommendations but points out that the HSE visits all sites of this size and the newspaper story was wrong to say “a giant steel girder slipped from a crane and plunged hundreds of feet to the ground – luckily missing builders underneath.”

Findell says the girder slipped as it was being put into position and only fell five feet, landing on top of the part of the structure where it was being placed. He also says the story was wrong to say the HSE ordered workmen not to use the cranes again until its inspectors were satisfied that they were safe.

The Mirror story is the latest in a series of reports saying construction is a disaster. Multiplex, which has admitted that the project will lose the company £45 million, has had a rough ride in the U.K. press.

From the time it was first awarded the contract, the Australian contractors been scrutinized for some business dealings and doubts surfaced if it could satisfy the National Audit Office of its financial integrity.

Originally, a few government ministers were reported to have failed to back the project after hearing a report on it delivered by city troubleshooter David James, in which he expressed “serious concerns” over how Wembley National Stadiums Ltd. (WNSL) chose Multiplex.

Former Wembley consultant David Hudson told members of Parliament that the bidding process had been unfair, and criticised WNSL for not setting a realistic budget. Even WNSL finance director Roger Maslin conceded the bidding process hadn’t been “transparent.”

In March, following a deluge of calls from national paper journalists, Webber Shandwick put out a press release admitting Multiplex’s Sydney office had received an extortion demand. It contained a threat against company employees unless the demand was met.

The March 3 edition of London’s Metro newspaper still carried a story claiming “Builders stayed away from the Wembley Stadium site yesterday, following death threats against crane operators.”

The paper, which is available free at the city’s main rail and underground stations, said the builders were reacting to warnings from Russian mafia bosses who said snipers would open fire on building sites across the world if Multiplex failed to hand over £20 million.

In May, when the £45 million Wembley loss was announced, John Roberts stepped down as Multiplex executive chairman – a position he’d held since 1962 – and its shares were suspended on the Sydney stock exchange while the company tried to assess the true financial damage of the contract.

The share price had already been nearly halved since problems at the stadium emerged in February. Multiplex blamed spiraling costs on soaring steel prices and expensive legal disputes with contractors.

— John Gammon