THE family of a man crushed to death at work heard in court today that his employer had so little regard for health and safety that “it was only a matter of time before someone died.”
Malcolm Hinton, 56, died while working at Mobile Sweepers Ltd, based in Riddings Farm, Headley on March 6, 2012.
His boss and friend, Mervyn Owens, and Mobile Sweepers Ltd- the company that Owens ran with his wife Mary- appeared at Winchester Crown Court today after pleading guilty to failing to discharge a health and safety duty and corporate manslaughter respectively.
Mr Hinton, a father-of-three from Calcot, near Reading, was crushed under the hopper of one of the company’s road sweepers as he worked beneath it, trying to fix a fault.
The court heard that he had no training in mechanics, no protection of any sort and that there was no available ‘prop’ to keep the sweeper from falling. The light on site was said to be very poor.
The sweeper had been raised off the ground using its own hydraulic system and Mr Hinton had inadvertently cut through the hydraulic hose that was preventing it from falling on him.
He suffered massive head and chest injuries and died “almost instantly” when the machine, which weighed more than two tons, crashed down on him.
Prosecuting, Esther Schutzer-Weissmann said there was a culture of “blatantly disregarding the health and safety of those who worked there and those who came into contact with it. It was only a matter of time before someone died.”
She added that previous employees and Owens himself had been injured at the company in previous years and that people had left because of the dangers. She said: “Over many years the company had been run on a shoestring.”
The company made £195,000 in 2012, the court heard.
In the year 2011-2012 it spent £6,000 on repairs and maintenance.
In general, repairs were carried out by Owens, his one employee Darren Gough, or Mr Hinton, none of whom had any training.
Investigations following the incident by the police and the Health and Safety Executive found that all six of the sweepers owned by the company had a litany of faults.
It found that vehicles were not properly maintained, repairs were inadequate, there were no records of maintenance kept and no training had been offered.
Miss Schutzer-Weissmann said that Mr Hinton, who was not directly employed by the company, had known Owens for 15 years and worked for cash-in-hand when the company was short-staffed.
He was paid around £80 a day as a driver.
She spoke of the devastating affect his death had had on his widow, Patricia Hinton and their three children Ben, Stephen and Helen. The family have since moved to Swansea.
In a victim impact statement, Mrs Hinton said that when she received the news of her husband’s death: “the world crashed in around me. I felt as if it was a bad dream.”
She said that two of their children were suffering with deep depression and that she had since had a mini-stroke.
The court heard that Owens had paid for the funeral of Mr Hinton. In her statement, Mrs Hinton said she felt as if he was “trying to buy his way out of his guilt.”
Defending Owens, Richard Matthews said that his client felt “deep and genuine” remorse over the death of his friend.
He said Owens had since set up another business, Owens Sweepers Ltd, which was run in a “completely different way”.
He said in his submission that £100,000 would be the maximum recoverable amount his client could afford to pay- money from two rental properties he and his wife own in Basingstoke Road.
Defending Mobile Sweepers Ltd, Andrew McGee said: “It is right to say that the company accepted this is a very serious offence.
“It has not sought to belittle the seriousness of this offence.”
Owens and Mobile Sweepers Ltd will be sentenced at a later date, yet to be confirmed.