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June 18, 2010

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Three firms found guilty in Buncefield case

Three companies have been convicted in relation to the Buncefield oil depot explosion in Hertfordshire, in December 2005.

TAV Engineering Ltd, of Guildford Surrey, was today (18 June) found guilty of breaching s3(1) and s33(1)(a) of the HSWA 1974, at St Albans’ Crown Court. Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd was found guilty of the same charges on 16 June.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd was found guilty of failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects, contrary to reg.4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999, and s33(1)(c) of the HSWA 1974. It also pleaded guilty to s85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991, for causing pollution to enter controlled waters underlying the vicinity around Buncefield.

Total UK and British Pipelines Agency Ltd both pleaded guilty to a number of safety breaches at earlier hearings. All five companies will be sentenced together on 16 July.

The incident was jointly investigated by the HSE and the Environment Agency (EA) as both are the ‘competent authority’ responsible for regulating non-nuclear major hazardous industrial sites in the UK under COMAH.

A joint statement from the HSE and the EA said: “This was the biggest and most complex criminal inquiry we have worked on together – the product of many hundreds of hours of painstaking forensic investigation.”

It continued: “When the largest fire in peacetime Europe tore through the Buncefield site on that Sunday morning in December 2005, these companies had failed to protect workers, members of the public and the environment.

“The scale of the explosion and fire at Buncefield was immense and it was miraculous that nobody died. Unless the high-hazard industries truly learn the lessons, then we may not be that fortunate in future.”

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