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homeFriday 22nd September 2017

JTF fined £1m for Legionnaires’

Katie Coyne27/07/2017 - 14:00

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Discount warehouse was source
Discount warehouse was source

Discount warehouse chain JTF Wholesale has been fined £1m for health and safety breaches after 21 people became ill and two people died from Legionnaires’ disease.

The outbreak of the deadly form of pneumonia in the summer of 2012 was traced back to a display hot tub at the company’s Fenton store in Stoke-on-Trent.
Richard Griffin from Clayton, 64, and William Hammersley, 79, fell ill after visiting the store and died in 2012.

Harry Cadman from Stoke-on-Trent died from a pre-existing condition but his quality of life was ‘severely impaired’ by the disease up until his death. Other victims were also deeply affected.

With the help of Irwin Mitchell solicitors in 2015, victims of the outbreak and their families, secured a six-figure settlement. This was prior to knowing whether a criminal prosecution would proceed.

At the end of June, JTF pleaded guilty to the health and safety offences on the morning that the criminal trial was due to start. The firm was also due to be tried for corporate manslaughter.

The prosecution was advised to accept the plea rather than go to trial, as the likely fines imposed under the new sentencing guidelines would be similar to that imposed in the event of a corporate manslaughter verdict.

This was because the health and safety breaches were very serious, meaning any fine would be at the top end of the scale.

Senior investigating officer Glyn Pattinson of the Staffordshire Police force said: ‘We knew they were going to get a significant fine, because of the new sentencing guidelines, for the health and safety breaches.

‘When we started to talk about figures we were advised by our barrister that there would not have been a significant difference.’

This saved the public purse, the victims, and family of the deceased from the stress of having to give evidence in court. There was no opportunity to impose a prison sentence as no one individual could be identified as responsible.

Mr Pattinson also praised the meticulous investigation carried out by Stoke-On-Trent council’s environmental health team that formed the basis of the case against JTF. He argued that in these sorts of cases it was important to liaise at the ‘earliest stage’ in order to ‘present a strong evidential case’.

In passing sentence, earlier this month, at Stafford Crown Court, the honourable Mrs Justice Andrews said: ‘JTF failed to put in place measures that were recognised standards in the industry and it failed to make appropriate changes following a prior incident exposing risks to health and safety.’

She added: ‘All those who suffered in consequence of the outbreak of Legionnaires disease - not only the unfortunate victims, but their families, are very much at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Their suffering cannot be underestimated.’

Mrs Andrews said JTF’s culpability was ‘high’ and as the risk of death was high the case fell within Harm Category 1. The seriousness of harm risked was Level A because this was a case involving a risk of death.
The fact that the company eventually pleaded guilty was factored into deciding the fine, as was the company’s economic position. While the company’s turnover was high, its profitability was not.

With this in mind the judge also ordered that the £1million fine be paid in annual instalments of £200,000 over a five-year period. JTF will also pay the prosecution, the HSE, costs in the agreed sum of £85,000.

The charge JTF pleaded guilty to was a failure to discharge the duty imposed on it by section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Jatinder Paul, an associate solicitor and specialist Public Health lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who represented the families welcomed news of the fine and hoped that the families could feel some ‘justice’.
However, he said that despite the criminal prosecution concluding, victims of the outbreak are still waiting for a personal apology from JTF.

Mr Paul said: ‘The fine sends out a message to others to ensure that lessons are learnt and highlights the huge responsibilities that businesses have when it comes to meeting industry accepted health and safety standards.

‘Legionnaires’ disease is preventable with appropriate management of water systems and it is important that all businesses recognise their responsibilities to reduce the risk of outbreaks of the potentially fatal disease.’
 
 

 

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