HSE fire appeal success offers hope

R v Tulip Limited (Court of Appeal - 20 November 2008)

The appellant was prosecuted following three separate incidents at its Thetford premises. The appellant pleaded guilty to three charges before the Crown Court and was fined a total of £255,000. The first incident involved a worker suffering the amputation of fingers while working on a packing machine (fine £120,000); the second was an electric shock injury to a maintenance worker changing a fluorescent light bulb (fine £100,000); and the third involved unsafe roof access that was brought to the attention of the HSE by the appellant when they attended to investigate the second incident (fine £35,000).

The appellant appealed against the extent of the fines, arguing that the Crown Court had been unduly harsh in finding that it had fallen "well" short of the reasonably practical test. The trial judge did not have sufficient regard for its training program and work undertaken to update the systems of work, and the appellant was not given credit for drawing the HSE's attention to the unsafe roof access. The Court of Appeal agreed that the fines were excessive and reduced the total fine to £180,000 (£75,000 for the first incident, £75,000 for the second and £30,000 for the third).

Comment

This case should give some encouragement to defendants who are dissatisfied with the extent of fines handed out by courts in first instances of HSE prosecutions. In this case the appellant accepted that it faced a significant fine, but clearly the trial judge had been unduly harsh in awarding fines of £255,000. The Court of Appeal believed that the figure of £180,000 was reasonable in the circumstances, conveying "the appropriate sting" to the appellant. - Blake Solly, BLM Leeds.

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