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November 13, 2009

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Oil company pleads guilty over Buncefield blast

Only one of the five companies being prosecuted over the 2005 Buncefield oil depot explosion is admitting culpability for the health, safety and environmental damage charges against it.

In a plea and case management hearing at the Old Bailey today (13 November) Total UK Ltd entered guilty pleas to the charges against it, under sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and the Water Resources Act 1991.

The other four companies being prosecuted — Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, British Pipeline Agency Ltd, TAV Engineering Ltd, and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd — all pleaded not guilty to a variety of charges under the HSWA 1974, the Water Resources Act 1991, and the COMAH Regulations 1999. (Click here for more detail.)

The prosecution is being taken jointly by the HSE and the Environment Agency over the blast, in which more than 40 people were injured, and surrounding land and property sustained heavy damage. The subsequent investigation into the incident resulted in 78 recommendations for regulators, industry and other stakeholders, and prompted a review of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations to promote greater collaboration between agencies involved in land-use planning and better control of community safety.

Earlier this year, Total UK was ordered to pay for the damage caused by the explosion after the High Court ruled it was liable for the acts of negligence of the supervisor on duty on the night of the explosion, and that it was responsible for tank-filling operations.

The next hearing, which will focus on operator and contamination issues, is scheduled to take place at the Royal Courts of Justice on 12 and 13 January 2010. Total is unlikely to be sentenced until trials have been held for the other companies.

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