Electricity firm's fine for death of grandfather slashed to just £135,000

A power company convicted after a Preston grandfather fell to his death at work had its £900,000 fine slashed to £135,000 by top judges.

Friday, 24th August 2018, 3:07 pm
Updated Friday, 24th August 2018, 3:10 pm
Preston grandfather John Flowers died while working for Electricity North West

But Electricity North West Ltd failed to get its conviction overturned at London's Court of Appeal.

In November 2013, John Flowers, a linesman employed by the company, fell from height while clearing ivy from a vertical wooden pole in Gregson Lane, Hoghton.

The 63-year-old, from New Hall Lane, Preston, was a 'skilled craftsman', appeal judge Lord Justice Simon told the court.

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He was held in place by a work positioning belt, but while he was clearing the vegetation with a handsaw, he cut through his belt and fell, sustaining fatal injuries.

It was 'not in dispute' that the work ought to have been carried out from a mobile elevated work platform or ladder, said the judge.

Electricity North West was convicted of contravening the Work at Height Regulations 2005 at Preston Crown Court and fined £900,000 in March last year.

The company was acquitted of breaching the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The sentencing judge said there had been 'high culpability' as it was a 'persistent failure properly to plan over a lengthy period of time'.

'The need to plan for work at height was obvious' and it was a 'systemic failure'.

As it was a 'very large organisation', it was necessary to make an 'upward adjustment' to the fine to result in a 'proportionate sentence', the judge said.

At the Court of Appeal, lawyers for Electricity North West argued that the £900,000 fine was far too harsh and should be reduced.

The size of the fine 'bore no relation to the seriousness of the offence', they argued.

The crown court judge had to sentence on the basis 'that the company had carried out a sufficient risk assessment which did not expose anyone to a risk of harm', said the lawyers.

His assessment of culpability was 'inconsistent with the evidence and with the acquittals', they claimed.

Lord Justice Simon said that 'in light of the jury's verdicts, the company had been convicted of an offence which was properly characterised as an offence of between low and medium culpability'.

"We have concluded that the right sentence in this case was a fine of £135,000," ruled the appeal judge, who was sitting with two others.

The grounds of appeal against conviction included that it was 'logically inconsistent' with the acquittals on the other charges.

But Lord Justice Simon said: "We do not accept that there was no, or insufficient, factual basis, nor that the conviction on count 2 was inconsistent with the verdicts on counts 1 and 3."

"Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal against conviction; but allow the appeal against sentence by reducing the fine from £900,000 to £135,000."