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Bosley Mill owner cleared of manslaughter, mill managers cleared of health and safety breaches following fatal 2015 explosion

30 April 2021

Manslaughter charges against the owner of a wood mill in Cheshire, UK where four people died in a 2015 explosion were dropped on April 29. A day later, on April 30, two mill managers were cleared of health and safety offences as well, bringing an end to a 12-week trial.

Bosley Mill explosion in 2015 – Image: Cheshire Fire & Rescue
Bosley Mill explosion in 2015 – Image: Cheshire Fire & Rescue

George Boden, a Director of Wood Treatment Ltd in 2015 when the blast happened at Wood Flour Mills in Bosley, was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter on April 29. Corporate manslaughter charges against Wood Treatment Ltd were also dropped.

The exact cause of the 2015 explosion is still not known after the damage caused to the mill by the blast made it extremely difficult for investigators to determine a cause. However, during the trial the jury was told that the incident likely involved a wood dust explosion. Four people died in the incident: cleaner Dorothy Bailey, 62, maintenance fitter Derek William Barks, 51, mill worker Derek Moore, 62, and chargehand Jason Shingler, 38, whose body was never recovered.

A four-storey building was destroyed in the blast and large fires broke out at the mill. At the time, a firefighter described the aftermath of the explosion as "a scene of devastation". Dozens of staff members were injured in the explosions and fire. Fires at the site continued to burn for weeks after the explosion with crews not leaving the site until more than a month after the explosion, which reduced the mill to rubble and left some employees “horrifically injured”, the court was told during the trial.

The trial, which had been sitting for almost 12 weeks since February, also heard that employees had raised safety concerns in the years leading up to the explosion. The prosecution alleged that the blast was caused by negligence and that the mill management had known about “excessively high” dust levels.

After being cleared of four counts of gross negligence manslaughter, Boden pleaded guilty to a health and safety offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Wood Treatment Ltd had admitted a health and safety offence before going on trial.

Judge Mrs Justice May told the jury on April 29 to return not guilty verdicts over the manslaughter charges against Boden and Wood Treatment Ltd. The charges were dropped after an application to dismiss at the end of the prosecution’s case. In her judgment, Justice May ruled there was not enough evidence to prove that gross negligence caused the explosion.

Justice May said: "The Court of Appeal has directed that the company and Mr Boden are not guilty on counts one to eight, inclusive on the indictment, that's to say the four corporate manslaughter and four gross negligence manslaughter charges."

On April 30, mill manager Peter Shingler and operations manager Phil Smith were cleared of health and safety offences after the jury was directed to return not guilty verdicts. Tony Badenoch QC, prosecuting, said: “Following the events of yesterday and adjournment overnight, the position has now been reached that the prosecution will not continue to seek guilty verdicts in the case of Mr Smith and Mr Shingler.”

Sentencing of both Boden and Wood Treatment Ltd in relation to health and safety offences will take place on June 18.

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