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CCA Press Releases
April 5th 2000

High court quashes Health and Safety Executive decision not to investigate work related death holding original decision to be unlawful

High court orders new investigation by HSE into death

HSE agrees to undertake investigation with the assisstence of the police to consider whether manslaughter offences have taken place

The High court today ordered the HSE today to undertake an investigation into the death of 20 year old Mohammed Omar Akhter who was killed on 12 August 1997. [see text of order below]

Immediately prior to the decision, in a climbdown, the HSE agreed that they would investigate the death.

This decision comes after a 2 year long campaign by the Manchester based family to get a criminal investigation into the death. They first officially contacted the HSE in July 1998 to ask them to investigate. Since then the HSE has repeatedly refused to intervene.

20 year old Mohammed Omar Akhter was killed when a forklift truck, driving out of Moores Timber Merchants in Manchester struck the car in which he was driving. The forks of the Fork Lift Truck pierced the windscreen and sliced into his neck. He died the next day.

After the death, although it was the enforcing authority, the HSE refused to investigate the conduct of Moores Timber Merchants and determine whether any health and safety offences has been committed by the company or one of its company officers. The HSE's refusal also meant that there could be no manslaughter investigation since, at the time, the police would only carry out such an investigation if the case was referred onto them by the HSE.

The Health and Safety Executive told that the court today that the new investigation would be carried out by a senior officer of the HSE, with no previous connection with the case. The HSE also agreed that it would be carried out with the involvement of the police and Trafford Borough Council and that it would comply with its own guidance and protocols which require its inspectors to consider offences of manslaughter, as well as the commission of health and safety offences.

The Court heard that the HSE was informed of the death by Trafford Borough Council within forty minutes of the death taking place. The HSE took no action. Subsequent to that Trafford Borough Council sent a a 90 page bundle of evidence relating to the health and safety record of Moores Timber Merchants. This included a letter from the Council to the company on 19 May 1997 - just a few months before the death - setting out how the company had "contravened" health and safety law in a number of ways and instructing it to make improvements. The HSE still took no action.

Ms Barbara Hewson, barrister for the family, told the court, that their failure to investigate this case was "incredible", "grotesque" and a "total dereliction of their duty".

The court that heard that in its evidence to the Select Committee on Environment Transport and the Regions, the HSE had said that it "investigated all deaths".

The only investigation into this death was undertaken by the Road Traffic Police. As a result, the driver of the Fork Lift Truck and his employer. Moores Timber Merchants, were convicted for failing to have a driving license. They both received a six month conditional discharge.

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Hilda Palmer, Greater Manchester Hazards Centre Tel: 0161 953 4037
Helen Dolan Solicitor, Hugh Potter & Company Tel 0161 237 5888
David Bergman, Centre for Corporate Accountability Tel: 0171 490 4494

Text of Order
The HSE undertakes:

"to investigate concerns arising from the heath and safety legislation consequent upon the fatal accident to Mr Akhter on 12 August 1997, such investigation to be conducted in accordance with the enforcement Policy Statement, the principle set out in the Protocol on work related death and with the principles of the HSE policy HSEM 1990/3 and the Guidance on Manslaughter OC 165/5 save where these are inconsistent with the aforementioned Statement and /or Protocol.
"It is ordered that:
The Respondent's decision not to investigate, evidence by Mr Gladwells' annotation of 8 December 1997 be removed into this honourable court and be quashed."
In February, the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and the Region criticised the HSE:
  • for its investigation policy as being "totally inadequate".
    The HSE only investigates 10% of major injuries reported to it.

  • for its "low level of prosecutions".
    It only prosecutes companies after 20% of workplace deaths and after 1% of major injuries reported to it. Between 1996-1998, it failed to prosecute a single manager or director in relation to over 500 workplace deaths and and 47,000 major injuries reported to it
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