HSE v Essar Oil Limited – Liverpool Crown Court before Davis J
Michael Hayton QC represented Essar Oil Limited before Davis J in the Liverpool Crown Court when the company was fined £1,650,000 for an offence contrary to the COMAH Regulations 1999. The prosecution arose from an explosion that took place at the Stanlow Oil Refinery at Ellesmere Port in November 2013. No injuries were sustained by any person but it was accepted that the risk of harm was high, and that a fatality could have resulted.
The refinery is the second largest in the UK and provides one in every 6 litres of petrol purchased nationwide as well as being a amor manufacturer of diesel and aircraft fuels. The refinery is COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) site and the company has a turnover for the site of approximately £5 billion.
Whilst Essar acknowledged their guilt at an early stage there were protracted negotiations over many months regarding disputes between experts as to the level of culpability to be ascribed to the company for its failings. Further, the prosecution sought to bring the company within the “Very Large Company” section of the Sentencing Council Definitive Guidelines, which would potentially have attracted a sentence outside the £10,000,000 maximum envisaged within the guideline table covering “Large” companies. Expert accountancy evidence was relied upon by the defence in support of submissions as to proportionality.
Ultimately, following written and oral submissions, the case was dealt with on the basis of Harm Category 1, which was always conceded, and medium culpability with some aggravating features and was sentenced well within the range set down for “Large” companies.