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December 2, 2008

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Power firm failed to act in time over lethal fallen cable

A power company was warned but did nothing about a fallen, live electric cable two hours before a member of the public was electrocuted by it.

Professor Roland Levinsky, 63, a previous vice-chancellor of Plymouth University, had been walking his dog across a field at Wembury, near Plymouth, on New Year’s Day 2007 when he came into contact with the 11,000-volt power cable. It had been brought down in a gale the night before and was resting on a hedge.

Plymouth Crown Court heard that the cable was attached to an almost completely rotten pole (pictured) that had been blown over in strong wind. The lines had not snapped, or come into contact with each other, and so had not tripped and consequently were still live.

Western Power Distribution, of Bristol, had been warned more than two hours previously about the dangerous cable, but call-centre staff had logged the alerts as ‘miscellaneous’, and hence given them low priority.

The company was fined £200,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £72,695 on 27 November, after it pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of HSWA by failing to ensure the safety of the public.

In its defence it offered its early guilty plea and previous good safety record, and said it had since taken steps to remedy deficiencies identified as a result of the HSE investigation.

Steve Woods, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, told SHP the pole had been erected in 1948 and had not been checked since 1998. He commented: “When it comes to ensuring that no one is exposed to unnecessary risks, all employers have a duty of care towards members of the public as well as to their own employees. “

He concluded: “Clearly, in this case, the company should have heeded the warnings that its cables were unsafe after the recent bad weather, and its failure to do so resulted in the tragic death of Professor Levinsky.”

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