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Timber company and director convicted of health and safety breaches which led to death of Omar Akhtar in 1997

Moores Timber Merchants Ltd and director Michael Broadbent were today found guilty of breaches of health and safety law over the loading and unloading of goods which put at risk the health and safety of pedestrians and motorists outside their premises in Trafford. The offences were committed between 1st January 1995 to 12th August 1997. The judge will sentence tomorrow, 12th June at 10.30am, Manchester Crown Court, Minshull Street, Court 9.

On 12th August 1997 Omar Akhtar, a young man of 19, about to go to University to study law, was killed when a fork-lift truck from Moores Timber Merchants collided with his car as he drove home down the one-way Shrewsbury Street.

The Health and Safety Executive failed to treat this incident as a work related fatality until at the suggestion of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, the Akhtar family, brought a judicial review in April 2000. The HSE and police then launched a joint investigation which failed to find sufficient evidence of corporate manslaughter but enough to bring health and safety charges against the company and the day-to-day director, Mr Broadbent. The company is now in liquidation.

Today after six years, the company and Mr Broadbent were convicted of offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. The HSE case against both parties was that they failed to identify and control the risks inherent in carrying out the loading and unloading procedures on a busy road outside their premises and thereby put the lives of pedestrians, motorists and other road users at risk, culminating in the incident which killed Omar Akhtar. The only sentence available to the court for these offences is a fine.

Mr Akhtar said 'Many times we thought we would never see anyone brought to trial for the totally unsafe systems of loading and unloading lorries with a fork lift truck on the street that Moores Timber carried out for years and which killed my son. We are glad that there has finally been a trial of the company and director responsible. If the company had obeyed health and safety law then my son would still be alive today. I don't think a fine is enough for the crime that was committed and it has taken far too long that the company is out of business and so can't even be fined a significant amount.''

Hazards Campaigners echo Mr Akhtar's feelings on the sentences available to the court for most health and safety breaches, Hilda Palmer, Chair of the national Hazards Campaign said 'Fines are not enough to deter employers from disregarding health and safety law and putting workers and members of the public at risk every day. Imprisonment is currently available for many much lesser offences and Lawrie Quinn MP recently brought a private members bill to raise fines and make imprisonment available for more health and safety offences because the government has failed to bring its own legislation as proposed in Revitalising Health and Safety 2000. The failure by Moores Timber Merchants to carry out risk assessments and then operate a safe system of work over several years which ultimately led to Omar's death, is so serious we feel the court should have had the power to impose a custodial sentence.'

The government recently reconfirmed its manifesto promise to implement a new law of corporate killing to make it easier to prosecute companies whose health and safety behaviour falls well below what is acceptable. Hilda Palmer adds 'If the Corporate Killing offence had been available, this may well have been a good case.'

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