Coleraine firm accepts guilt over worker’s ‘terrible and tragic’ death

Court
Court

A director in a Coleraine sawmill firm has pleaded guilty to causing the death of one of its workers two years ago.

The director, Colm Diamond, appeared before Antrim Crown Court to plead on behalf of the family-run firm, A Diamond and Son (Timber) Ltd, to the ‘corporate manslaughter’ of 54-year-old father of three, and grandfather Peter Lennon on September 27, 2012.

The Newmills Road-based company, with over 50 employees, accepted that they had caused Mr Lennon’s death, by managing or organising their “activities in a way amounting to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by you to the said deceased”.

In court to hear the company’s guilty plea were friends and family of Mr Lennon, including his widow Anne, who was embraced by Mr Diamond as she left court too distressed to talk to waiting reporters.

No details surrounding what was described as the “terrible and tragic” death of Mr Lennon were given to the court during the short hearing.

Adjourning the case, jointly prosecuted by the police and Health and Safety Executive, Judge Desmond Marrinan said while the legislation provided for unlimited fines, it was first necesasary to examine the company strengths and profits.

Judge Marrinan added that an agreed prosecution and defence statement of facts concerning “this terrible tragedy” was also needed, and that in the meantime the court could do nothing but express its considerable sadness to the family and friends of Mr Lennon, “an extremely important and hard-working and dedicated family man who did not deserve this”.

Defence QC Greg Berry said that on behalf of the company he had been specifically instructed to express their “genuine, heartfelt sorrow and remorse at the tragic death of not only an employee, but also a friend”.

While corporate manslaugher cases are somewhat rare in Northern Ireland, this is the third company in recent years to accept responsibility for the death of an employee, and the second company this month to appear in court on the criminal charge.

Northern Ireland’s first corporate manslaughter conviction, in May 2012, saw a Co Armagh pig farming company being handed the largest recorded fines arising out of a work-related death.

The Tynan-based JMW Farms Limited was fined a record £185,500 plus over £15,500 in costs arising out of the death of 45-year-old father-of-two Robert Wilson on November 15, 2010.

In October last year, Co Down firm, J Murray & Son Ltd, were fined £100,000 plus £10,000 costs, for health and safety failings which led to the unlawful death of 47-year-old employee Norman Porter on February 28, 2012.

Last week, a Co Antrim-based company, G&J Crothers, based at Tildarg Road in Doagh, were told they are to stand trial in the new year, after pleading ‘not guilty’ to the corporate manslaughter of Michael Beston on July 7, 2013.