embargoed until 16 March 2000 ( Back to news releases)
Why did Sam Adams, 6, die?
Trafford MBC versus the Trafford Centre at Manchester Crown Court, Crown Square, Manchester for sentencing on 16th March 2000
Shortly after the opening of the Trafford Centre in 1998, 6 year old Samuel Adams was killed by a heavy balustrade falling on him in the arena area of the centre. This happened because there were no risk assessments or safe systems of work in place to ensure the safe removal and replacement of these heavy railings (weighing about 18 stone each) around a stage area. At Trafford Magistrates Court on 4th February, directors of the Trafford Centre sensibly pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 Section 3 which covers protecting the health and safety of members of the public. The magistrate referred the case to the Crown Court for sentencing as it was so serious he felt his powers were exceeded since the maximum fine he could impose is £20,000. At the Crown Court an unlimited fine can be levied.
Hilda Palmer Co-ordinator of Greater Manchester Hazards Centre (GMHC) said today:
‘The Hazards Centre, Bereaved by Work support group and the Hazards Campaign, support Sam’s parents, Dawn and Paul Adams in demanding a significantly severe sentence on the directors of The Trafford Centre. The fine imposed should be large enough to act as a proper punishment for the negligence they showed in failing in their legal duty of care to Samuel and other people at the Centre and it should also be large enough to act as deterrent to other companies. When we go to work or out with our families shopping, we should be able to rely on the directors of those premises complying with all relevant health and safety laws to protect us from foreseeable risks to our lives. The Home Secretary and the government generally are very keen on using the concept of deterrence in sentencing other types of law breakers, we ask that employers who break health and safety laws be treated as severely. Ideally we would prefer there to be a law of corporate killing which would allow named directors to be sent to prison if their negligent failure to obey laws lead to a person’s death. This would then treat such negligent employers as fairly as muggers and other violent criminals. ’
There is much support for this view and it must be noted that fines cannot be paid for out of Employers Liability Insurance, they come out of the company’s profits and so larger fines will have more impact. .
The November 1998 case of F.Howe & Son in the Court of Appeal is the authority on this and observed that fines were too low, and in some cases may need to be big enough to put a company out of business.
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine said on 1st December 1999 (at the ‘Fine Times’ TUC conference) : ‘Someone injured by a breach of Health and safety at Work Act 1974 is no less a victim than someone who is assaulted.’
‘In some cases..maximum penalties include imprisonment – and where that is appropriate, the court should not flinch from imposing a sentence if imprisonment.’
Health and Safety Minister Lord Whitty on 2nd December 1999 (at The Institute of Employment Rights Conference) said:
‘Our commitment is to legislate when Parliamentary times allows, to make stiffer penalties available to the courts. We have a Bill ready to increase the maximum lower court fines for a wider range of offences to £20,000, and to make imprisonment available for the majority of offences’
‘Fines might be linked to a company’s turnover or profits; on the spot fines might be levied for minor offences; compulsory health and safety training might be required or a penalty point system might be introduced.’
Andrew Bennett MP, Chair if the Commons Environment Committee, criticised the number of firms who get away with health and safety offences or face derisory fines ‘Get tough on killer firms’ was the Manchester Evening News headline on 15th February 2000.
The killing of Samuel Adams is not a one-off. Sadly employers frequently neglect their duties to protect members of the public and escape punishment for this. That is one reason why The Trafford Centre should be fined heavily today to act as a deterrent to other negligent employers who might then think twice before putting people and especially our children at risk. Just two other local and one national tragedies show the need for this:
Omar Akhtar was only 18, a brilliant student just about to go to university and study law when he was killed in August 1997. his car was hit by fork-lift truck in the one way street in which Omar lived in Trafford. The FLT from timber merchants was engaged in unloading from a lorry on the public road and insufficient care was taken to protect members of the public from this work activity. Unfortunately, the HSE did not investigate and are now the subject of a Judicial Review on 4th April, which will be, heard by the Lord Chief Justice.
Gerard Byrne was only 12 when he was killed while walking to school in Congleton in 1999. He was on the pavement, bending down to tie his shoelace, when a lorry reversed out of a workplace and crushed him. Fortunately in this case the HSE are investigating under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Simon Jones was a 24 years old student killed on his first day as a casual labourer at Shoreham docks in 1998, unloading cargo inside a ship. Simon’s head was crushed in a grab. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the employers there is a Judicial Review of the CPS decision in London on 23rd March 2000.
Things are changing, too slowly but the message must go out to all employers:
Comply with health and safety law; protect your employees and members of the public.