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Michael Hayton QC represents multi national chemical company in fatality prosecution

Michael Hayton, instructed by Nabarro, represented the Cristal Pigments, a Saudi Arabian based company who are the world’s second largest producer of titanium dioxide, a chemical used in all white paint. The prosecution under sections 2 and 3 of HSWA 1974, arose from an explosion in 2010 that ruptured containers at the company’s plant in Humberside, an Upper Tier Comah site, and caused a spill of toxic chemicals that tragically killed an employee and left another in a coma for some weeks. The spill also caused a toxic cloud of acidic gas to blow over the River Humber, endangering the crew of a merchant vessel. The river was then closed to commercial traffic for many hours.

A Health and Safety investigation began which, due to the factual complexities in establishing how the explosion occurred, took over two years to conclude. Unhappily, during the period of the investigation a further chemical leak took place, this time not involving any explosion or injury, but which was separately charged under the COMAH regulations.

The total fine imposed by HHJ Richardson QC, the Recorder of Hull, was £3,000,000 made up of £1,800,000 for the section 2 offence and £600,000 on each of the other two charges. This was a company whose turnover was measured in hundreds of millions. However, independent accountancy evidence was used to persuade the Court not to treat the company as a “very large organisation” for the purposes of the Sentencing Guidelines. It was accepted that this was a high culpability case and harm level 1.

A hugely complex case that involved a multitude of experts from many disciplines. This case serves as a further example of how the Sentencing Guidelines are being used by the Courts to impose fines at a much higher level than was the case prior to 5 February 2016 but also how useful accountancy reports rather than mere accounts can be in the mitigation process. ”

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