Belfast Telegraph

Timber firm hit by £100k fine for 'gross failures' that led to death of Peter Lennon

By Michael Donnelly

The life of a man crushed to death at a timber company could have been saved if his employers had known about safety features in their machinery, a judge has said.

Diamond and Son (Timber) Ltd has been ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs after the death of employee Peter Lennon (54) on September 27, 2012.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan told the Coleraine company's directors that he was "staggered" they had not been told how to operate their machinery in a safety maintenance mode.

Mr Lennon had been repairing a French-made Telecant saw used to "grab and drag" heavy logs before he died. However, the power was left running, and Mr Lennon "became crushed between a hydraulic ram and an upright in the machine", an investigation found.

The joint probe by the PSNI and Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) also found the repair could have been carried out safely whilst the power was off. However, the machine was never put into a maintenance mode for repairs. It also emerged a wire had been left in place which would have overridden this safety feature anyway.

Prosecuting QC Ciaran Murphy said the company's repair system was "inherently dangerous". He said "people working on the machine were basically taking their lives in their own hands". It was, he said, "a recipe for disaster".

Defence QC Greg Berry said the company was never made aware the machine could be repaired in a safe mode.

"Bluntly, Diamonds feel that they have been abandoned" by the French manufacturers, he said.

Judge Marrinan described what happened as "a complete disaster" and "an incalculable loss" for the family of Mr Lennon, who had worked for Diamonds for almost three decades as a fitter and maintenance engineer. The judge said the father and grandfather had "died because of gross failures to protect his life by his employers".

However, Judge Marrinan said he was staggered that no one had explained or asked about the maintenance mode, given the machinery's complexity and cost. On that question, he added he could not "find a credible answer".

The accident was a combination of a "succession of errors which are almost unbelievable" and "it could have been prevented by the removal of a simple wire".

In a statement, Mr Lennon's family - widow Anne, sons Stephen and John and daughter Karen - thanked the PSNI, HSENI, public prosecutors and their counsel for "their support and professionalism during this difficult and distressing time".

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