In only the second case of its kind, a Northern Ireland company has been fined for the corporate manslaughter of one of its employees.
Co Down firm, J Murray & Son Ltd, was yesterday fined £100,000, plus £10,000 costs, for health and safety failings that led to the unlawful death of 47-year-old employee Norman Porter on February 28, 2012.
A similar charge against 69-year-old company director James Daniel Murray, also of Burn Road in Ballygowan, was not proceeded with following his guilty plea on behalf of his animal feed mixing company.
However, in an effort to safeguard the 16 company jobs, Downpatrick Crown Court has allowed the firm to pay the monies in annual instalments of £20,000.
Mr Justice Weir, sitting in Belfast’s Laganside Courthouse, said that the totally preventable and foreseeable death of Mr Porter was both “terrible and dreadful”, and that he wanted to “re-emphasise that neither this nor any fine can, nor is it intended, to value the deceased’s life in money”.
However, the judge said while the fine “will do little to assuage” the family’s deep sense of loss at his “needless death”, it was the only penalty open to “mark the court’s strong disapproval” of the company’s gross and thoughtless negligence which resulted in the dreadful injuries and death of Mr Porter.
The joint police and Health and Safety Executive investigation into the fatal incident revealed that for three years the blending machine, in which Mr Porter was mangled, had been operated without safety guards. They were removed to allow raw ingredients to be added more easily, but at the same time, exposed the dangerous mixing blades of the machine.
Mr Justice Weir, in his judgment, said that the machine could have been “safely and cheaply modified to render it safe”, and while no one witnessed the accident, “it was plainly entirely foreseeable, indeed obvious, that a person either deliberately, or accidentally entering the danger zone of the machine, would meet with serious injury or death”.
He also told the company director: “That death was entirely attributable to the negligent behaviour of the company at its highest level of direction. There can be no question but that this was an obvious and gross breach of the duty of care owed by the company to the deceased.”
Despite the judgment, not all members of the family are happy with the outcome. Speaking on behalf of the “paternal side of the Porter family”, his brother Brian said they had been left “with many unanswered questions that are important to us as a family and the loss of Norman’s precious life”.
He added they “expected nothing” from the police and courts, and got nothing concerning the “tragic accident caused totally by poor health and safety procedures on their work premises by JM Murray and Son”.