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Today at Ayr Sheriff Court Sheriff Montgomery imposed fines on a building company who pled guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that killed Gareth Ritson, crushed by a pallet of falling bricks.
On sentencing Sheriff Montgomery made the following statement in court:
“Gareth Ritson was fatally injured on 12 September 2007 when a pallet of building bricks then suspended above him by the crane of a lorry at a building site burst causing the bricks to fall on to him. In this resulting prosecution Garry James Morgan (the first accused), Keyline Builders Merchants Ltd (the second accused) and Ayrshire Building Construction Ltd (the third accused) have all pled guilty to separate charges under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Importantly the charges to which the first accused and the third accused have tendered guilty pleas are related to the death of Mr Ritson whereas the charge which the second accused pled guilty to is not.
It is abundantly clear from the narrative of events relating to this tragic accident that it was wholly avoidable. It would not have happened but for the failures of the first and the third accused. The failure of the third accused occurred when that company instructed the deceased to stack a pile of loose bricks on to a pallet in an area where uplifting operations were being undertaken by the first named accused and thereafter failed to supervise him.
The failure of the first accused occurred when he instructed Mr Ritson to insert timber batons within that pallet while a load of bricks was suspended in the crane above him. These failures in the face of glaringly obvious risks are very serious. It is accepted that the deceased in no way contributed to his own demise. The offence committed by the second named accused which employed the first named accused was a failure to provide the first accused, their employee, with traffic cones to prevent persons entering an area beneath lifting operations.
There are aspects of sentence which the public in general and the family of the young man who died in this accident in particular should be made aware of. These are:-
(1) The only competent sentence which the Court can impose in relation to these offences is a fine, the extent of which is unlimited in terms of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974;
(2) The level of the fines is not intended to represent the value of the life which has been lost. There may be claims for compensation which may be dealt with either extra-judicially or as part of a civil process. That, however, is not a matter for this Court. It follows that the fines which this Court imposes must not be taken either individually or in totality to be any equivalent of the value of the Mr Ritson’s life.
(3) In selecting the appropriate amounts of the fines the Court must try to balance various factors including the nature of the offences and the ability of the accused to pay a fine. Section 211(7) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 provides – “a Court in determining the amount of any fine to be imposed on an offender shall take in to consideration, among other things, the means of the offender so far as is known to the Court”.
The first and the third accused pled guilty at a First Diet and the second accused pled guilty to a substantially reduced charge at the trial diet. A trial has therefore been avoided. Taking these matters into account, as I am bound to do, I have reduced the amount of the fines which I would otherwise have considered appropriate by 20%.
I deal with the accused as follows:-
(1) The first accused has no previous convictions. As a result of this accident he was dismissed from his employment with the second accused. He is now in part-time employment with a disposable monthly income of £150. He has prospects of full-time employment. He has no savings. I impose a fine of £1200.
(2) The second accused is a limited company which has been in existence since on or about 1965. It employs around 1100 people. It has 83 branches nationwide. From the information given to me it is clear that this company takes its responsibilities anent health and safety very seriously. It has no previous convictions. I impose a fine of £2400 recoverable by civil diligence.
(3) The third accused although a limited company is in practice run by Scott McDowall, its sole director and holder of 99% of its shares. It was said that the deceased was not only the sole employee of the company but also a friend of Mr McDowall. Presently the company again has one employee. It has no previous convictions. The latest set of accounts disclose a profit after tax in year to 31 July 2007 of £10369. Not allowing for work in progress its liabilities exceed its assets. I impose a fine of £4800 recoverable by civil diligence.
Finally, when the amounts of the fines imposed are compared with the fatal consequences which resulted from the failures of the first and third accused the constraints which the Court is subject to as to the amount of the fines which it can impose in accordance with the law, as it presently stands, are highlighted. This only serves to underline what I have previously said namely, these fines necessarily bear no relation to the value of the life which has been lost”.