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Disqualified director jailed over worker death and company deception
01 September 2014
A Hampshire businessman, who was disqualified from being a company director, has been jailed for serious fraud and safety offences. A second businessman was given a suspended prison sentence for similar offences.
The two were sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on the 29th August following joint proceedings brought by BIS (the Department for Business Innovation and Skills) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The safety offence related to the tragic death of a 40 year-old Southampton worker in September 2010.
Paul O’Boyle, 56, of Cholderton Road, Andover, was jailed for a total of 26 months; 16 months for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; ten months for a breach of the Fraud Act 2006; and a total of eight months concurrent for four breaches of Section 13 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. He was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum of 15 years.
Russell Lee, 67, of Quay 2000, Horseshoe Bridge, Southampton, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years after admitting the same breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and a concurrent six months, also suspended, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting O’Boyle in his disqualification.
Lee was also disqualified as a director, for seven years, ordered to pay £8,000 toward prosecution costs and given 150 hours’ community service.
The safety offences related to their running of Alton-based Aztech BA Ltd and the death of a worker who was crushed and killed by a two-tonne metal sand-moulding box that fell from the lifting chains of a crane he was using to manoeuvre it.
The court was told Paul O’Boyle had been disqualified from acting as a company director for 12 years in 2006 but continued to act in that capacity at a number of foundry companies, including Aztech(BA) Ltd, which operated from premises at Lasham, Hampshire. In running Aztech, Mr O’Boyle was aided by Russell Lee, who agreed to be the registered director of the company.
The offences came to light following the fatal incident at the now-insolvent company, Aztech, when Ian Middlemiss, 40, who lived in Thornhill, Southampton, was crushed beneath a heavy sandbox on 30 September 2010. Colleagues scrambled to free him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
HSE investigated the death and identified serious concerns with the systems of work in place at the time, and with the lifting equipment. HSE became aware of the Companies Act offences and a joint investigation with BIS was undertaken.
HSE found that the crane at the centre of the incident had not been checked and tested as the law requires, and there were inadequate provisions in place covering competency, supervision or training. The court heard the incident could have been prevented had the system of work been reviewed and properly assessed.
HSE inspectors also identified problems with lead exposure at the company. Substances containing lead were used elsewhere at the site as part of a separate bronze moulding process, but the control and health surveillance measures were insufficient – meaning workers were being exposed to potentially harmful levels of lead without realising it.
The court was told that at the time of Mr Middlemiss’ death the foundry was the subject of three Improvement Notices served by HSE following earlier visits in September 2009 and June 2010. A number of important safety improvements were required, but few had been satisfactorily implemented, largely, claimed the management team, because of financial constraints.
HSE argued the fatality incident could have been avoided had the necessary changes in the relevant enforcement notices taken place.
Aztech BA Ltd was also sentenced for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, after a guilty plea was submitted on behalf of the insolvent firm by its administrators. The court imposed a fine of £100,000.
In terms of the other offences, the judge heard that between 2006 and 2011 Paul O’Boyle contravened two orders disqualifying him as a director by acting in that capacity in no fewer than four separate companies, including Aztech.
He was also responsible for the cross-firing of cheques, which were written from the bank account of one of the companies, which was no longer trading, to provide funds for Aztech.
BIS investigators established that Aztech drew almost £92,500 in this way, taking advantage of a short window after the cheques were presented but before they bounced.
The investigators also established that Russell Lee aided and abetted Paul O’Boyle as the registered director of Aztech, performing tasks such as writing blank cheques for
Mr O’Boyle to use, but not fulfilling the responsibilities of being the director of the company, allowing O’Boyle to run the business.
In his sentencing comments, the Recorder of Salisbury, His Honour Judge A H Barnett, said Paul O’Boyle had behaved in a ‘disgraceful’ way and had been culpable of ‘extremely shoddy business practice’.
After reading a statement from Mr Middlemiss’ father, the judge said the impact of the incident had been devastating: "It was harrowing, and underlines the personal tragedy that could have been avoided.”
After sentencing, Tim Galloway, HSE Director of Operations, Southern Division, said: "The safety standards at Aztech BA Ltd fell well short of those required, as Paul O’Boyle and Russell Lee were only too aware. They knew improvements were needed to protect workers like Ian Middlemiss and they had clear responsibilities as senior management to ensure the necessary changes were implemented.
"Sadly one of the many areas that was seemingly overlooked was the system of work surrounding the overhead crane. Had this been properly assessed then Ian’s tragic death could have been prevented.”
David Middlemiss, Ian’s father, commented: "I brought my son up since he was an infant and cared for him all his life until his death. His passing has left a huge empty void in my life, a devastating loss that I will never recover from.”
Deputy Chief Investigation Officer Liam Mannall, from BIS, said: "Individuals are disqualified from being company directors for good reason, usually because of conduct which shows them to be unfit to operate a business. This case shows the tragic consequences of Mr O’Boyle ignoring his disqualification.”
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