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APPEAL BY BUILDER FAILS TO OVERTURN HUGE FINE

Near £1/2m penalty upheld as appellant must bear measure of responsibility

It has been reported by the North Wales Daily Post that the Appeal Court has upheld the £450,000 fine imposed on Watkin Jones and Son Ltd following the death of a labourer who fell through a roof within ten minutes of starting his new job.

Thomas Whitmarsh, aged 23, died of head injuries sustained in 2007 at Bangor’s Menai shopping centre. He worked for a sub-contractor and fell 5m through a hole in the roof.

He suffered head injuries when he fell through plywood covering a hole in the roof suffering brain damage, hearing loss, partial blindness and meningitis. Mr Whitmarsh died in November 2009 due to meningitis resulting from his injuries.

Watkin Jones and Son were fined £450,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £98,000 after a Mold Crown Court jury convicted the company of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in August last year.

Breakdown in chain of command

The Crown Court found that the fall resulted from a “serious breakdown in the chain of command” after the company’s employees failed to ensure the hole was properly secured.

On appeal the company legal team argued that sub-contractors on site bore some responsibility for the death. Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice Bean and Judge Michael Pert QC, noted that the risk faced had been “huge”, and that his fall was in many ways “an accident waiting to happen”.

Lady Justice Hallett said although there was no question of it trying to cut corners the company culpability was high and a man died, concluding:

“Watkin Jones were liable for what turned out to be a fatal accident. It was their employees who carried out the work, and it was their employees who failed to ensure that before they left the site it had been left secure. The appellants were directly involved in creating the circumstances which led to this tragic death and must accept a significant measure of responsibility.”

Justice Hallet added that the company would not be ruined by the fine.

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