The owner of a fireworks company has been given a 36-week suspended prison sentence after a trainee was blinded when a mortar exploded in his face.
Chris Hignell, 51, was working as a trainee firer during a fireworks display at the Chewton Place Hotel in Keynsham, Bristol, on 3 May 2008. The display was managed by Jason Edgecombe, who traded as JWP Fireworks.
Mr Hignell was lighting a rack of mortars when the category-four firework exploded in his face. The explosion set his hair on fire, but according to the prosecuting authority, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Edgecombe continued with the fireworks display rather than offering any assistance. Mr Hignell was taken to hospital where he remained for 13 days. He has been left blind in one eye and required extensive facial reconstructive surgery.
An investigation revealed that Edgecombe had used a forged public-liability insurance document to obtain fireworks from a wholesaler and also to get work as a display operator.
In July SHP reported that Edgecombe appeared at Bristol Crown Court, where he pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, and admitted three counts of fraud contrary to s1 of the Fraud Act 2006.
Reconvening for sentencing on 16 September, the court heard that, despite his conviction, Edgecombe ran a firework display in Bridport, Dorset in July this year without valid insurance. He had been refused insurance in the past, so he obtained a certificate by applying online and printing the certificate to show the display organiser, before the insurance company could contact Edgecombe and decline to insure him.
Edgecombe was given a 36-week suspended prison sentence in relation to the fraud offence and was ordered to pay £5000 compensation to Mr Hignell. He was also given a Prohibited Activity Order under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which prohibits him from engaging in any business involving the purchase, acquisition or storage of fireworks, and from being involved in any capacity in the provision or firing of any display, for a period of two years.
In mitigation, Edgecombe told the court he thought Mr Hignell had experience in lighting fireworks, and, as a result, felt it unnecessary to give him constant supervision. €ﾨ€ﾨ
When delivering his sentence, Judge Neil Ford told Edgecombe: “These offences concern fraudulent activity to obtain financial gain. You were prepared to lie. Your approach to business is characterised by behaviour that is consistently devious. You were not concerned with safety and a devastating injury resulted. Had the health and safety offence been committed more recently you could have lost your liberty in respect of it. As the law stood at the relevant time, I cannot imprison you.
“Mr Hignell’s injuries are such that he would be entitled to many thousands of pounds of compensation had you been insured. I cannot award such a sum as you do not have the money to pay. My order reflects your resources, not Mr Hignell’s injuries.”
After the hearing EHO Carter said: “The investigation and court proceedings were hampered by a complete lack of cooperation from Mr Edgecombe, and incurred costs to the council of £19,000, which have not been recovered. However, in view of the seriousness of the offences, there was no alternative to prosecution.”
In 2007, Edgecombe was arrested for selling fireworks without an ‘all-year-round licence’ following a sting operation by Bath and North East Somerset Council. He pleaded guilty to breaching reg.9 of the Fireworks Regulations 2004 and was fined £400 and £300 in costs.
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