In only the second case of its kind in Northern Ireland, a Co Down firm yesterday pleaded guilty to the corporate manslaughter of one of its employees.
The company, J Murray and Sons of Burn Road in Ballygowan, face sentence on Friday.
However, a similar charge of the unlawful killing of Norman Porter on February 28, 2012, against company director James Daniel Murray, of the same address, was not proceeded with.
Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told Belfast Crown Court that 69-year-old Murray’s guilty plea was acceptable as the company admitted it was their failure to manage or organise their activities that caused the death of Mr Porter and amounted to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to him.
Mr Murphy also revealed that Mr Porter, who apparently had either fallen or was dragged, having caught his clothing in an animal feed mixing machine, was found “entangled” within its blades, and that he had suffered “an horrific death”.
The lawyer said that the safety guards at the top of the machine had been removed and, according to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, there was nothing to prevent the accident from occurring.
Mr Murphy added later that the death of Mr Porter was entirely forseeable and that the cost of making the machine safe by providing a new type of open mesh safety grill would not have been substantial to the company.
Defence QC Liam McCollum said that, despite reports, Murray has – and wished to – extend his personal feelings of extreme remorse and also to express his sincere apologies and condolences to Mr Porter’s family.
Mr McCollum said there was also a misunderstanding concerning Murray’s son James’ comments to police afterwards, and seen by trial judge Mr Justice Weir as a possible cover-up.
Mr Murray Jnr, he said, had not tampered with the machine afterwards, and that at all times it was accepted the machine was operated without the safety cover.
“Mr Murray Snr,” said Mr McCollum, “has nothing but utter remorse and utter sympathy for Mr Porter’s family.”
Mr Porter, he said, had been a life-long friend of Mr Murray.
Mr McCollum said it was accepted that the company faced a substantial penalty, but revealed the Co Down firm was not in a healthy position and that jobs could be lost.
The lawyer also asked what would be achieved by putting a company out of business.