Garden centre charged with corporate manslaughter

The Crown Prosecution Service has charged a Norfolk garden nursery with corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of an employee two years ago.

Grzegorz Krystian Pieton died on 15 July 2010 from an electric shock, caused when the metal hydraulic-lift trailer he was towing came into contact with an overhead power line. The incident occurred in Terrington St Clement, at Belmont Nursery, which is run by PS & JE Ward Ltd, based in King’s Lynn.

The HSE investigated the incident on the same day and immediately served the company with two Prohibition Notices, relating to: the operation of vehicles of a certain height from coming into contact with or closely approaching the overhead power lines in the field adjacent to the nursery buildings; and the movement of metal irrigation pipework under the overhead lines without undertaking a suitable risk assessment and implementing a safe system of work.

A month later, a further Prohibition Notice was served to prevent the use of the trailer after the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) found that the brakes didn’t work. An Improvement Notice was also issued to the company to provide information, instruction and training for employees relating to transport and deliveries close to overhead power lines. The firm complied with all the notices.

The principal crown advocate in the Special Crime and Counter Terrorism division of the CPS, said yesterday  “I have carefully considered the evidence and have concluded that it is sufficient to charge PS & JE Ward Ltd, based at King’s Lynn, with corporate manslaughter and with failing to discharge a duty imposed by section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974.”

The company has been summonsed to appear at King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court on 23 November. It is the third company the CPS has charged with corporate manslaughter since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in 2008. Earlier this year, a farming company received the largest ever health and safety fine in Northern Ireland following the first corporate manslaughter conviction there.

PS & JE Ward issued a statement through its solicitors, saying: “Belmont Nursery has worked closely with Police, the HSE and other agencies investigating the incident at the nursery. As formal legal proceedings are now underway, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on any aspect of the case at this time.

“Everyone at Belmont Nursery remains profoundly saddened by the death of Mr Pieton, and his family have been, and are constantly, in our thoughts.”

PS & JE Ward is a small company with fewer than 50 employees. According to corporate-accounts information provider Duedil, the nursery operator’s most recent accounts show it to have net assets of £740,056 and a turnover in 2010 of £4,277,310.