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February 23, 2011

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Defence lab admits failings over scientist’s death

An agency of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been censured after a government scientist was killed while testing homemade terrorist bombs.

Terry Jupp, 44, was part of a team of scientists working for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at an MoD-owned facility in Shoeburyness, near Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

On 14 August 2002, he was carrying out classified tests on the destructive capabilities of bombs created by terrorist groups. He was mixing a 10kg charge of three chemicals – the identity of which have been kept secret on national security grounds – inside a plastic tub, before taking it to the explosives range. But the mixture unexpectedly ignited and Mr Jupp suffered 85-per-cent burns from the explosion. He died in hospital a week later owing to his injuries.

The initial investigation was led by the MoD Police acting in cooperation with the HSE, in line with agreed national protocols regarding workplace fatalities. It found that Dstl had not completed an adequate risk assessment, and Mr Jupp was neither protected by a screen nor provided with PPE.

On 21 February, Dstl’s chief executive, Dr Frances Saunders, attended a Crown Censure heating and accepted failings under s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974, on behalf of the agency and the MoD. Dstl is part of the MoD and, as such, cannot face prosecution from the HSE in the same way as non-Government bodies. Crown Censures are agreed procedures applicable to crown employers, including the MoD, in lieu of HSE criminal proceedings.

Following the hearing, Crown Censure chair, HSE’s Susan MacKenzie said: “Mr Jupp died needlessly. Even at the time of the incident, Dstl had well-documented safety procedures, which, had they been followed fully, would have prevented or considerably reduced the severity of the incident.

“The evidence brought to light by HSE’s investigations would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of the MoD in civilian courts. This Crown Censure is the maximum enforcement action that HSE can take and should serve to illustrate how seriously we take the failings that led to the death of Mr Jupp.”

Dstl told SHP that it regretted the incident and said it would never knowingly put lives at risk. A spokesperson said: “Dr Saunders stated how sorry she was that Terry Jupp died as a result of the tragic accident. She explained that during the years since the incident, Dstl has continued to develop and enhance its safety management culture and systems. She also revealed the extensive action that had been taken, which served to minimise the risk of a further accident. Dstl takes the health and safety of all its employees and the public very seriously.” €

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