Following the death of a 17-year-old Lancashire biker a company has been ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling £100,209 for a health and safety breach.
Ryan Acaster died from head injuries after being flung from his 110 cc off road motor cycle when it struck a metal cable strung between two trees on a country estate.
A judge described the tragedy as “an accident waiting to happen.”
The teenager from Brinscall, Chorley, had gone with friends to the 2,000 acre Hesketh Estate in Crossens near Southport to use his trail bike on Sunday, 20 July 2008 when he met his untimely death.
He was riding along Suttons Cart Track on the privately owned land at about 19 mph when his machine struck the metre high cable which had been installed earlier that month to prevent trespassing.
Gamekeeper Adrian Johnson, who worked for wholesale tree nursery firm, J A Jones & Sons, had erected the cable with a sign prohibiting access to the track after speaking to adjacent tenant farmers and his managing director, Nicholas Aubrey. But a week before the tragedy the sign was removed, presumably by vandals, and when Mr Johnson’s brother spotted that he attached a grubby white t-shirt instead. Mr Johnson discovered this two days before the accident but did not take down the wire, replace the sign or tell Mr Aubrey, said Nigel Lawrence, prosecuting.
The police officer who investigated the incident noted difficulty in spotting the cable which was in a dark area, covered and surrounded by trees.
The nursery firm, of Bankfield Lane, Churchtown, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety of people who were not employees.
Sentencing them Judge Thomas Teague, QC, said that it was known that people had been riding motorcycles along local tracks for at least 10 years, although infrequently.
He said that the original set up involving the reflective metal ‘no access’ sign would not have given risk to an unacceptable risk but the sign was removed and the “crude expedient” of attaching a t-shirt was a hopelessly inadequate substitute for a proper warning sign.
“The company acknowledges that it should have monitored and supervised Mr Johnson’s actions more closely than it did and, to the extent that it failed to do so, it effectively condoned those actions”, said Judge Teague who fined the firm £50,000..
But the judge added the firm’s failure to provide adequate monitoring or supervision was in itself a significant cause of Ryan Acaster’s death.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that the company, which has been in business for 113 years and employs about 50 people, has no previous convictions.
Simon Antrobus, defending, said the company expressed its “deep regret” about the loss of Ryan’s life and said no one could fail to be moved by the family’s victim impact statements.
Outside court after the hearing Ryan’s father, Dean, 49, said: “I am relieved we have got some justice. This is the first time we have heard anything like an apology.”
He thanked the Health and Safety Executive for pursuing the case even after the CPS had decided to take no action.