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JTF Wholesale has been fined £1m after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at its Stoke-on-Trent store led to the deaths of two men.

William Hammersley, 79, of Chesterton, and Richard Griffin, 56, died after breathing in infected water droplets from a hot tub on display near the exit, café and till points at the store.

JTF Wholesale, which runs 12 discount warehouses across the North and Midlands, admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act at a hearing at Stafford Crown Court on 30 June, and was sentenced on 3 July.

The charge covered the period from 1 January 2012 to 26 July 2012. The court heard that 21 people in total were struck down by the outbreak in July 2012, caused by a failure to properly maintain the hot tub display feature.

One victim, Harry Cadman, 71, did not die as a result of the Legionella bacteria, but the court heard that his quality of life was “severely impaired” by the disease before his death.

Griffin, a delivery driver for his brother’s business, was delivering food to the store before he was taken ill.

Stafford Crown Court heard that there should have been better maintenance of the hot tub and a more thorough risk assessment.

Following the sentencing, JTF released a statement of apology, saying: “The business apologises unreservedly for the failings back then that had such devastating consequences. Since 2012, a completely new board of directors and senior management team have been appointed and tasked to undertake a continuous and thorough review of the way in which the company manages its business; in particular, health and safety. A rigorous and extensive review of the company’s health and safety controls, management procedures and risk assessments has been completed.”

At the hearing, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, defending the company, said: “We accept JTF had not shown the compassion which might have been expected against this backdrop of loss and suffering. It is not a case of putting profits before training or doing things on the cheap. But the company accepts there is a fault in putting a rigorous system in place in accordance with guidance.”

A joint statement by relatives of the men said: “The past five years have been extremely difficult, we have had to endure years of not knowing who was responsible for the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the JTF store in Fenton that had such tragic consequences for us all. JTF have hid behind a wall of silence all these years before finally admitting that they were to blame, not only for infecting all those innocent people but to causing the premature deaths of our loved ones.”

The Crown Prosecution Service, which brought the prosecution, had been criticised for delays in the handling of the case, which involved parallel investigations by the Health Protection Agency (subsumed into Public Health England in 2013), Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire police.

In January of this year, inquests into the deaths of Hammerlsey and Griffin were adjourned to allow the prosecution of JTF to proceed.

It’s also understood that the CPS originally charged JTF Warehouse with corporate manslaughter, but the company pleaded not guilty to this charge. Rather than proceeding to a jury trial, it seems that the CPS opted to prosecute under the Health and Safety at Work Act alone.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell said that it had negotiated a “significant settlement” on behalf of the victims in 2015.

Source – Health & Safety and Work

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