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Buncefield blast firms facing fines

Five companies are facing unlimited fines over their part in the Buncefield oil depot explosion.

The firms will be sentenced at St Albans Crown Court on Friday after a trial in which jurors heard the environmental damage from the blast is still not known and could last for decades.

The explosion, on December 11 2005, is widely thought to be the largest in peacetime Europe. It measured 2.4 on the Richter scale and could be heard 125 miles away.

TAV Engineering Ltd, of Guildford, Surrey, and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd, which is in voluntary liquidation, were both found guilty last month of failing to protect workers and members of the public, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL) was found guilty of failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects. It also pleaded guilty to causing pollution to enter controlled waters underlying the vicinity around Buncefield, contrary to the Water Resources Act.

The verdicts followed a joint prosecution by the HSE and the Environment Agency (EA) which the bodies described as the "biggest and most complex criminal inquiry" they worked on together.

Total UK already pleaded guilty to three charges, of failing to ensure the safety of workers and members of the public and of causing pollution to enter controlled waters.

British Pipeline Ltd also admitted two charges in connection with the explosion, failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects, and causing pollution to enter controlled waters.

The destruction at the Hertfordshire depot came after a massive vapour cloud ignited when 250,000 litres of petrol leaked from one of its tanks.

The court heard people living nearby suffered significant damage to their homes, with windows blown in and doors blown off their hinges. Residents described the impact as being "like an earthquake" and lawyers said it was "miraculous" that nobody was killed.

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