Buncefield fines are too lenient
20 July 2010
The fines handed out by the Crown Court to the five companies found guilty of having a hand in the 2005 explosion at the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot, in Hertfordshire have been described as an insult by local residents who fell victim to the disaster. The Buncefield blast shattered the local community and left a long-term legacy of pollution. The Health and Safety Executive has estimated the cost of dealing with the disaster at more than £1 billion.
Concluding the four month trial at St Albans Crown Court, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said the companies had shown slackness, inefficiency and a more or less complacent attitude to safety but only ordered the five firms to pay less than 1% of the cost of the damage, which is thought to be the most costly industrial disaster to have struck the UK.
The prosecution of Total UK, British Pipeline Agency, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, TAV Engineering and Motherwell Control Systems 2003, followed the most complex investigation ever conducted by the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency. The investigation revealed a series of serious failings that led to thousands of gallons of petrol being released in a large vapour cloud.
The resulting explosion registered at 2.4 on the Richter scale, injured 43 people, and destroyed nearby businesses. A clean-up operation overseen by the Environment Agency has already been in place for five years and will be evident around the site for many years to come.
Total UK, which had pleaded guilty to three offences was the hardest hit with a fine of £3.6 million –£3million for safety and £600,000 for pollution – and ordered to pay £2.6 million in costs. The penalty imposed on Total is thought to be the second highest ever handed down for safety offences in the UK but only amount to 0.003% of the profit earned by the oil giant in the first quarter of this year.
Hemel Hempstead Member of Parliament Mike Penning branded the fines an insult and said he would ask Attorney General Dominic Grieve to assess whether they were too lenient. Presumably normal penalty guidelines were followed when the fines and costs were set by the St Albans Crown Court. It could be time to revise these guidelines and put them more in line with the US legal system, which seems to penalise in billions rather than millions.
From: Kelvin Goulden
Director, K A Goulden Electrical Ltd
If the sum of £1 billion cost to the country is true, then Total and the rest should foot the bill. If it was their fault, make them pay. Why should we?