The Court of Appeal has rejected an attempt by a Kent-based tyre company to reduce a £1 million fine for health and safety offences, imposed a decade after the incidents occurred.
Watling Tyre Services Ltd pleaded guilty to two offences of failing to comply with its duties under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in January 2016 in relation to the death of a young tyre fitter. The incident took place on 27 January 2006, but the company was not sentenced until 1 June 2016 through no fault of its own.
Excessive delay can rightfully be used as a mitigating factor under the sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, according to health and safety law expert Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the delay had already been fairly taken into account by the original sentencing judge.
“A £1m fine for a medium-sized company was therefore legitimate on the facts, even though it had taken 10 years for the case to come to court,” he said.
“It appears, therefore, that large fines for small and medium-sized companies and very large fines for large and very large companies are here to stay, as is apparent from the fines imposed by the courts in the nine months since the guidelines came into effect and confirmed by the Court of Appeal in this case,” said Bridges.
Matthew Hoare, who was 21 at the time of his death, had been repairing a puncture to the tyre of a large construction vehicle when it exploded, causing his death at the scene. Another individual, who did not work for the company, was exposed to risk of serious injury. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Hoare had not been trained for the task, and had been working on his own with inadequate equipment that had not been properly maintained.
Watling Tyres accepted responsibility for the incident, and did not dispute the value of the fine based on its culpability. It did, however, argue that the length of time it took for the case to be concluded justified a reduction in the fine. Sentencing the case in June 2016, the sentencing judge calculated the fine with reference to guidelines which came into force on 1 February 2016. The guidelines apply to all cases sentenced on or after that date, and the judge rejected submissions that they should not be applied here as the offence took place some years beforehand.
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