Owner of wood mill where explosion killed four workers avoids jail

Too much of the mill site was destroyed for the court to know if the blast was caused by gross negligence (Pictures: PA)

The owner of a mill where an explosion killed four workers has been spared jail, instead leaving court with a £12,000 fine.

In July 2015 a blast at the wood mill in Bosley, Cheshire, killed cleaner Dorothy Bailey, 62, maintenance fitter Derek William Barks, 51.

Mill worker Derek Moore, 62, also lost his life, and the body of 38-year-old chargehand Jason Shingler was never found.

The court heard how the company, Wood Treatment Ltd (WTL), cut costs at the expense of safety and that there was a ‘continuing history’ of smouldering fires and explosions at the site.

Prosecutors accused owner George Boden, 65, of ignoring employees when they brought up concerns about safety. 

Chester Crown Court fined the company £75,000 and Boden £12,000, handing him a nine month sentence, suspended for 18 months. He was also banned from being a company director for four years.

Blasting the outcome as ‘nothing’, Mrs Bailey’s 44-year-old son, Matthew, said: ‘It’s been nearly six years. It’s every day you wake up and think about your parents and if this nightmare is ever going to end. He’s not shown any remorse.’ 

Authorities found wood dust piled up around machinery in the mill (Picture: PA)
Boden and his brother bought the mill after the company went into administration in 2008 (Picture: PA)
The electric station at the wood mill, where employees’ concerns were said to have been ignored (Picture: PA)

Boden was originally charged with gross negligence manslaughter but was acquitted in April, halfway through the trial, as the judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove gross negligence because so much of the site had been destroyed.

Following the ruling he pleaded guilty to being the director of a company which committed an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

WTL was initially charged with corporate manslaughter, but this was dropped half way through the trial, which the court heard had prosecution costs of more than £540,000. The firm admitted a health and safety charge last year.

Although the court cannot be certain about gross negligence, Mrs Justice May described the company as ‘woefully wanting’ in health and safety responsibilities and called Boden, ‘totally inadequate’. 

She said: ‘The task was simply beyond him, he should never have been health and safety director or managing director of a business which required a very much more knowledgeable and effective hand on the tiller.’ 

A melted handrail at the mill. It is unclear what was destroyed by the explosion and what was already damaged (Picture: PA)
The body of Jason Shingler, 38, was never recovered after the explosion (Picture: PA)

Simon Antrobus QC, defending Boden, said: ‘Just because he has always denied he was guilty of manslaughter it doesn’t mean that what happened on that terrible day has not weighed on his shoulders heavily throughout the last six years.’ 

He argued Boden struggled with paperwork because he is dyslexic and tried to shift responsibility onto his younger brother Charles who Mr Antrobus said had the ‘real power’. 

Dominic Kay QC, defending WTL, disagreed with claims it was a negligent company, saying the brothers had bought the business after it went into administration in 2008 and had been working on it to get back onto its feet. 

He said: ‘This wasn’t a case of WTL doing nothing, it was trying to turn this company, which had failed and failed badly under the previous owners, turn it round, but it wasn’t a quick exercise.’ 

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Hughes, who led the police investigation into the explosion, said: ‘The families will never forget what happened that day, and while this is not the outcome that they had hoped for I hope that this will, in some way, help to bring some form of closure for them.’

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