THE man who ran a company which was responsible for the death of one its employees has been fined £183,000.
Malcolm Hinton was crushed to death by a road sweeper he was trying to repair while working at Mobile Sweepers (Reading) Ltd, based in Riddings Farm, Headley, on March 6, 2012.
Passing sentence, a judge described the case as “one of the most serious offences of its kind to come to these courts.”
As reported in The Gazette, during a previous hearing, Winchester Crown Court heard that it “was only a matter of time before someone died” as a result of the disregard for health and safety by the company, which was owned by Mervyn Owens and his wife Mary.
Owens had pleaded guilty to failing to discharge a health and safety duty, and the company pleaded guilty to corporate man-slaughter.
Mr Hinton, 56, was crushed by the hopper of a sweeper he was trying to repair after he inadvertently cut through the hydraulic hose which was preventing it from falling on him.
The grandfather, from Calcot, near Reading, had no training in mechanics, no protection of any sort, and there was no available “prop” to keep the sweeper from falling.
He suffered massive head and chest injuries and died “almost instantly” when the machine crashed down on him.
Sentencing Owens and his company, Judge Guy Boney went through a litany of failures in the way the company was run. Sweepers were not maintained, repairs were inadequate and staff were not properly trained.
Judge Boney said: “I have to say this case, in its way, presents as one of the most serious offences of its kind to come to these courts.”
He added that it was an environment in which “one false move” could have resulted in death.
He ordered Owens, who owns two rental properties in Reading, to pay a £183,000 fine and the company, which has assets of £11,300, to pay an £8,000 fine.
Owens was also ordered to pay costs of £8,000 and the company to pay costs of £4,000 to the Crown Prosecution Service, which brought the case to court alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Mr Hinton leaves behind his widow Patricia, their children Ben, Stephen and Helen and his two children from a previous marriage, Wayne and Rebecca. He had four grandchildren, who he “loved deeply”, and also leaves behind his mother, Brenda, sister, Gail and brother Andrew Hinton.
Addressing the family of Mr Hinton, Judge Boney said they should not see the fine as an attempt to put a price on Mr Hinton’s life.
He added that had the same case been brought against a very profitable company, the fine would likely be closer to £1million.
Judge Boney also disqualified Owens from being a company director for five years after hearing that he has since set up another “almost identical” company called Owens Sweepers Ltd.
The company has no employees and has regular checks on its sweepers, but prosecutor Esther Schutzer-Weissmann warned: “The Health and Safety Executive have done what they can to find out about the new company, and they are concerned.”
Detective Sergeant Glyn White said: “This was an extremely tragic case in which Malcolm Hinton lost his life in quite avoidable circumstances.
“No sentence can compensate the Hinton family for their loss and suffering, however today’s outcome reflects the seriousness of this case.
“This conviction should send out a message to all small limited companies with a hands-on senior management structure, that they are vulnerable to prosecution if their health and safety systems are inadequate or not enforced."
HSE principal inspector Steve Hull described the death as “wholly avoidable had the company and Mervyn Owens ensured that the raised hopper of the road sweeper vehicle, which weighed over half a ton, was safely propped as he worked underneath.”
Mr Hinton's wife, Patricia, told The Gazette that her life had been “ripped apart” by the loss of her beloved husband of 28 years.
She said: “This has completely devastated my family. It has destroyed my life.
“It is not just a man who has been taken away from me – it is my friend, my soulmate and my husband. There will never be another man in my life.”
She said she was “angry and upset” by the level of the fine. She said: “I don’t feel like justice has been done. I was expecting more.
“I know that it isn’t an attempt to put a value on his life – nothing could do that. But I don’t think it is enough. I feel like Owens can carry on with his life while we can’t.
“My children have been affected so badly – Ben can’t understand why his dad isn’t here. His dad meant everything to him.”