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Hugo Boss fined £1.2 million after four-year-old boy killed by mirror

Published 04/09/2015

Four-year-old Austen Harrison was crushed to death when an 18-stone mirror fell on him
Four-year-old Austen Harrison was crushed to death when an 18-stone mirror fell on him

Designer brand Hugo Boss has been fined £1.2 million over the death of a four-year-old boy who was killed when an 18-stone mirror crushed him in a shop changing room.

Austen Harrison died after suffering severe head injuries when the 7ft mirror, which had been left standing free rather than being attached to a wall, toppled on to him at a Hugo Boss pop-up store in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire.

The youngster was left with irreversible brain damage after the huge mirror - described as being balanced upright like a "domino piece" - came down on top of him as he visited the store on June 4 2013 with his parents Simon and Irina Harrison.

Austen, from Crawley, West Sussex, died four days later at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital.

An inquest concluded the mirror should have been fixed to a reinforced wall, while coroner Darren Salter described the incident as "an accident waiting to happen".

Hugo Boss later admitted offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

At Oxford Crown Court Judge Peter Ross said "it would have been obvious to the untrained eye" that the mirror posed a risk, saying it was "nothing short of a miracle" that it had not fallen before.

There had been numerous "near misses" with mirrors at other stores across the country, the judge said, adding that Hugo Boss had a "corporate responsibility", and that he was sure that the health and safety breach went "to the very top of the company".

Following the sentencing Kerry Jack, a representative of Austen's mother - now Irina Glaser after she and Mr Harrison divorced - read a statement on her behalf.

She said: "I would like to thank the coroner, Judge Ross and Mr Hake of Hugo Boss for their sensitivity and genuine care.

"Austen's greatest pleasure in life was to help others.

"In his memory I invite you to help someone, no matter how small or large the deed, to assist Austen in creating a friendlier world.

"My love extends to each one of you for doing this."

The court heard that the mirror should have been fixed to a reinforced wall but was instead left standing freely, simply "balanced" on the floor.

Judge Ross said: "It would have been obvious to the untrained eye that the unsecured manner of a mirror of this size and weight represented an enormous risk to customers and staff alike."

But no one at the company took the trouble to see whether it had been properly installed, which was "indicative" of the lack of proper health and safety management.

Judge Ross said: "The fact that the mirror did not fall in the five-and-a-half months prior to Austen's death is nothing less than a miracle."

The falling mirror which killed Austen was not an isolated incident, the court heard, with others falling at stores in London in 2009.

Despite a recommendation that all mirrors should be fixed to walls - and senior staff and store managers undergoing health and safety training in 2010 that specifically highlighted this point - the problem was not fully addressed and another mirror was found propped up by a piece of wood in a changing room at the Bluewater store in Kent later that year.

Hugo Boss store managers were simply unaware of their health and safety responsibilities, the judge said, and area managers failed to deal with the issues.

Judge Ross said: "I am not saying that Hugo Boss UK did not have a health and safety system. It did.

"It had a system which, if implemented properly with appropriate training, management and compliance, would have prevented this. There is no doubt about that."

He added: "There is a corporate failure here, and a corporate responsibility."

In 2013 Hugo Boss UK had a turnover of around £167 million and an operating profit of over £15 million, the judge said, and the company was expanding rapidly.

The Bicester Village pop-up store was hurriedly revamped to replace a Burberry shop, and the haste to open it led to a "lack of planning, a lack of proper specification", while instructions for the mirror, which arrived there in September 2012, were "ill-defined and not followed through", the judge said.

He added: "I am satisfied so that I am sure that the breach goes to the very top of the company, not because of the absence of a (health and safety) system, but because there was a failure to operate and manage that system and ensure appropriate compliance to it to give health and safety the proper profile at board level."

Judge Ross conceded that Hugo Boss UK had taken immediate responsibility for the accident which claimed Austen's life, and said it was "quite clear that the company has responded vigorously and properly" to establish improved health and safety practices.

But he said: "At all levels, from managing director downwards, there were responsibilities", adding: "Was there a systematic failure? In my view there was."

Hugo Boss UK was fined £1.1 million for failing to ensure that staff and members of the public were not exposed to risk at the store, and £100,000 for failing to adequately plan, control, organise and review preventative and protective measures at the shop.

It was also ordered to pay more than £46,000 in court costs. Compensation for the family has already been agreed outside of the courts.

Hugo Boss UK said that after Austen's death it had carried out a thorough review of its health and safety processes.

The company pleaded guilty to the health and safety charges in June when it said it would "fully live up to its responsibilities" over the incident.

A spokesman said: "The company has since done everything it can to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring. We wish to make clear that health and safety is an integral part of our business, and a priority at every level of the organisation.

"Over the last two years, our thoughts and sympathies have been first and foremost with Austen's parents.

"We know, however, that there are no words to alleviate in any way the suffering caused to the family, and for that we remain profoundly sorry."

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