A contractor whose health and safety breaches led to the deaths of two farm workers has escaped a five-figure fine because he couldn't afford to pay it.
Trevor Moore (53), from Townhill Road in Rasharkin, Co Antrim, was instead given three years to pay a £3,000 fine after the judge heard he was bankrupt after his business collapsed due to ill-health.
Robert James Wilson (21), from Cloughmills, and 33-year-old James Kenneth Blair, from Rasharkin, were killed in June 2005 after a slurry tanker they were emptying burst open on a farm near Katesbridge, Co Down.
They were hit by thousands of gallons of waste and their bodies were only found by rescue teams after one of the victim's mobile telephones was called.
Moore was convicted after a trial in Newry last September of failing to provide a safe workplace for his employees. His lawyers argued that the incident was caused by a mechanical fault with a slurry bag which had been manufactured in Holland. But sentencing was adjourned as prosecution lawyers checked out his ability to pay a fine.
His lawyer Alan Kane QC said Moore had suffered a brain haemorrhage and a stroke, after which his one-man business fell apart and he was declared bankrupt. He said his only income was his £54 a week sickness benefit and doctors had told him he would never be fit to work again.
He said Moore hadn't gone out to deliberately breach health and safety regulations, or that he was seeking financial gain by taking risks.
He said that the incident was caused by a mechanical fault with a slurry bag which had been |manufactured in Holland.
Judge Patrick Lynch QC said he had to tailor the fine to the circumstances of the accused. The judge said the fine he would have imposed would have run into tens of thousands of pounds but it would be wrong for a court to impose a fine it knew the defendant couldn't pay.
Outside Belfast Crown Court yesterday, Mr Wilson's father Robin almost broke down as he gave his reaction to the case. His 21-year-old son was due to graduate in agriculture from Queen’s University a month after the |incident happened.
Mr Wilson said: “We are disappointed with the fine but we understand that the judge had to work according to the means of the man. We are not out to look for revenge, but I hope lessons can be learned from this case so that other contractors will take note.”
The heartbroken father added: “Trevor Moore was careless and reckless setting up equipment that had never been used in Northern Ireland before.
“But we are happy that the case is finally over after more than five years. It’s been a difficult time and is something we will have to live with. Our faith and our belief in God has supported us through this.”
Moore said his thoughts were with the families but he added that he was in no doubt that a manufacturing fault had been responsible for the deaths.