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'Fruit packing deaths' jury retires

The jury has retired in the trial of the manager of a fruit packing operation accused of sending two employees to their death by asking them to "scuba dive" without breathing apparatus into an oxygen-deprived storage unit to collect apple samples he wanted to enter into a fruit show.

Andrew Stocker, 57, of The Links, Whitehill, Bordon, Hampshire, denies the manslaughter of the two workers at the Blackmoor Estate in Liss, owned by Tory peer Lord Selborne, by ignoring health and safety regulation through encouraging his staff to use the "dangerous" procedure.

Scott Cain, 23, who was engaged to be married with the mother of his young child, and Ashley Clarke, 24, were both found unconscious on top of the crates of apples in a storage facility on the afternoon of Monday, February 18, 2013.

Efforts by staff and paramedics to revive them were unsuccessful and both were declared dead at the scene.

Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court, that Stocker, who was on holiday in the Maldives at the time of the incident, had instructed Mr Cain to gather the sample fruit while he was away to be entered in the Marden Fruit Show held twice a year in Kent.

He said that Stocker enjoyed the "kudos" of winning at the contest rather than claiming the "modest" financial prizes.

He said Stocker encouraged the practice nicknamed "scuba diving" which involved the staff entering the storage units through a hatch in the roof and holding their breath while they ducked inside in the cramped conditions to retrieve the fruit samples.

Mr Dennis said that the air in the sealed units had the oxygen levels reduced to 1% for the long-term preservation of the fruit and a person would die immediately after they ran out of breath while in the facility.


From Belfast Telegraph