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Appeal Court slashes C.RO Ports’ £1.8 million broken arm fine by 70%

The Court of Appeal has slashed an ‘excessive’ £1.8m fine imposed on C.RO Ports in January over failings that left a worker with a broken arm.

The Court of Appeal has slashed an ‘excessive’ £1.8m fine imposed on C.RO Ports in January over failings that left a worker with a broken arm. The judgment could encourage other convicted firms to mount appeals.

C.RO Ports London’s penalty for its failure to implement an exclusion zone around a powered dock-side capstan and act on an earlier near miss was reduced to £500,000.

The firm’s sentencing on 21 January was one of a spate of large penalties just before the new sentencing guideline came into force.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act after the worker’s left hand became caught between a heaving line and a capstan’s rotating drum in Purfleet, Essex, in June 2014. The worker sustained multiple fractures, nerve and ligament damage but has since returned to work fulfilling the same duties.

Two months before the incident, another worker’s hand was nearly drawn around the drum of a different capstan, but was not injured.

The firm, represented in the Court of Appeal by James Ageros QC, argued that the fine was excessive; the offence was not flagrant and the company had not deliberately ignored the earlier near miss (mentioned above).

C.RO Ports London had a good safety record and had conducted a risk assessment and developed a system of work for mooring operations. The worker’s injury was not at the highest level of seriousness and there was no risk of death.

The appeal court said that the sentencing judge in the case, HH Judge David Owen-Jones, was correct in ascertaining that the risk of injury was foreseeable. The firm’s failures had fallen far below the requisite standard over a number of years. The appeal court also backed his assessment that C.RO Ports London had failed to provide staff with adequate training on how to use the pedal operated capstans and did not appreciate the risk of serious injury during their operation.

However, the appeal court judges stated that C.RO Ports London was not oblivious to safety issues and that the injured worker had made a good recovery.

As the £1.8m fine must have included the one-third discount for the firm’s early guilty plea, the starting point was £2.7m. Instead, they decided that the appropriate fine was £750,000, which they reduced to £500,000 for the admission of guilt.

Despite the high fine, HH Judge Owen-Jones did not apply the new sentencing guideline, which came into force ten days after the firm was sentenced. The Court of Appeal decided that he made the right decision not to apply it; it could not be applied in anticipation of it coming into effect.