Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

July 14, 2015

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Apple farm boss jailed for manslaughter

Andrew Stocker, the boss of the fruit farm at Tory peer Lord Selborne’s Hampshire estate, has been jailed for two-and-half years for the manslaughter of two workers who died after being sent into a nitrogen-filled store while holding their breath.

Scott Cain, 23, and Ashley Clarke, 24, suffocated in the apple container, where the oxygen level was 1 per cent, whilst undertaking a practice known as “scuba diving” to retrieve the apples. Their boss, Mr Stocker, was on holiday in the Maldives at the time of the men’s deaths, but had left instructions.

The men, both assistants at the farm, got in through a small hatch in the roof of the sealed container and were later found lying on crates of apples. Efforts to revive them were unsuccessful.

It was heard in court how the men had been trying to retrieve apples for Marden Fruit Show in Kent. Mr Stocker knew the best samples could only gathered by someone entering from the top hatch and making a selection, the court heard.

The approved and safe method of using a metal hook to retrieve the apples was not deemed ‘adequate’ by Mr Stocker, as the fruit needed to be a particular size for an agricultural competition.

Andrew Stocker, 57, of The Links, Whitehill, Bordon, Hampshire, had denied manslaughter, but admitted exposing the men to a risk of death. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for their manslaughter.

Blackmoor Estate Ltd, which pleaded guilty in January to three offences related to contravening health and safety regulations, was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs.

The parents of Ashley Clarke said they recognised Mr Stocker was “not a bad man and did not mean to harm Ashley” but “his negligent actions led to his death”.

“We as a family… will be serving a life sentence as we try to come to terms with the loss of a son and brother who we shall never see again.”

All operatives have reviewed their operating procedures, equipment and security since the deaths.

Apple storage: What are the risks?

  • Apples are generally placed in controlled atmosphere (CA) stores for longer-term preservation, while refrigerated stores are used in the short-term
  • In CA stores, such as the ones used by the Blackmoor Estate, the oxygen level is reduced, nitrogen is increased and there are higher levels of carbon dioxide
  • Adverse physical effects can be seen when oxygen levels drop below 19.5 per cent – with 4 per cent enough to render someone unconscious after two breaths
  • In this case, the oxygen level was 1 per cent
  • Normal practice would be to put samples in a small tray or a net within easy reach of the hatch if they were needed for a competition
  • Apples are usually retrieved using a pole with a hook on the end – “Under no circumstances do you place a person or a part of your body into the store”.


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