Judge Puts Profit Before Lives Reducing Fines For Murder
“Since these events took place the owners of this company have already suffered. The value of their investment has already fallen from more than £5 per share to its present stock price of 29p.
“The value of the company has fallen at least in part because of the uncertainty of this case and the concern as to the likely size of the penalty. I should make clear that I have had close regard to the current sentencing guidelines in reaching my decision.”
The court heard the first incident took place on 19 June 2006 at Daw Mill colliery near Coventry where Supervisor Trevor Steeples was working in an area of the mine 700m underground, when he was overcome by methane gas and died at the scene.
The third death took place on 17 January 2007. Mineworker Anthony Garrigan was crushed to death at Daw Mill. He was assisting colleagues to install rockbolts to keep a tunnel wall support in place, when more than 100 tonnes of unsupported coal collapsed on him. The section of tunnel has a history of collapses but UK Coal failed to take steps to introduce a safe system of work.
Miner Paul Milner was also killed in an incident at Welbeck Colliery in Meden Vale, Nottinghamshire on 3 November 2007. He was installing roof supports around a coalface, which had ceased production, so that equipment could be recovered. But while he was carrying out the work the roof collapsed and he was crushed by approximately 90 tonnes of rock. HSE inspectors learned that a safe system of work had been created before the work started but UK Coal failed to enforce it.
When delivering the sentence Judge MacDuff said he originally planned to fine the firm £300,000 for each of the section 2 offences and not impose any further penalty for the three other charges. But he said he was “surprised at the size of the costs claimed” and took the view that the correct financial penalty was £1.2million. As a result, he adjusted the fines down to £112,500 per section 2 breach and awarded £187,500 in costs for each of the four breaches.
After the hearing, HSE Mines Inspector Bob Leeming commented: “These tragic incidents followed a four and a half year period where there were no deaths in the whole UK mining industry. It’s even more shocking that these preventable deaths were the fault of one company.
“All it would have taken to prevent these deaths was better management and proper hazard control by UK Coal. The company needs to demonstrate that they have learned - and will act upon - the lessons from these deaths.”
After yesterday’s hearing, Anne Steeples, the mother of Trevor Steeples, said: “Our family are relieved that UK Coal has been fined over the tragic deaths of four men but are bitterly disappointed at the outcome of the trial regarding Trevor’s death.
“Somebody was to blame. We know who they are and they will have to live with this knowledge for the rest of their lives.”
Source: Safety & Health Practitioner