An award-winning butcher has admitted a health and safety breach after a teenage employee lost a finger in a mincer.
Mark Barrett suffered other hand injuries and had to undergo multiple operations following the accident at the M&W Farm Meats counter at a Costcutter store in Moygashel, Co Tyrone.
Craigavon Crown Court was told on Thursday that in addition to the physical injuries, the member of staff, who was 16 at the time, was left traumatised.
Before the court, having pleaded guilty to charges under health and safety legislation, were Clayton Moore, trading as M&W Farm Meats, and master butcher George Hamill, from Ballycullen Road in Dungannon.
Mr Barrett was employed as a general operative, rather than as an apprentice, and part of his role was to clean machinery, for which he was said to have received "some informal training".
In a written opening submission, prosecuting counsel Michael Chambers outlined how the accident happened on November 18, 2017.
He said Mr Barrett was working under the supervision of Mr Hamill and was cleaning the mincing machine when a cloth he was using "fell down the mincer's feed throat and he was unable to retrieve it". Mr Hamill went to help him by loosening the toggle clamps which prevent access to the mincing blades, but as he tilted the feed throat to allow Mr Barrett to retrieve his cloth, the machine started up.
"Mark's hand was severely injured. He lost his right index finger completely and his right middle finger was severely damaged," Mr Chambers explained.
Doctors were able to partially repair the victim's middle finger by inserting pieces of metal into his hand, but Mr Barrett now has reduced grip, ongoing sensitivity to the cold and, while continuing to work as a joiner, has been traumatised by what happened.
Mr Hamill was asked during interviews why an isolator switch for the machine had not be turned off. He replied: "The only thing I can say is that we were so busy and coming near the end of the day.
"Obviously, with Saturday being a very, very busy day, tiredness maybe prevented me from turning the isolator button off."
Mr Moore accepted that health and safety training had been delegated to Mr Hamill and had never been signed off or documented.
Moore admitted failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of an employee. Hamill pleaded to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of another person.
Mr Chambers argued Mr Moore should have ensured formal training was given to the teenager. He added that "insufficient thought was given to the need to take extra care when employing a 16-year-old to work with dangerous machinery".
Turning to Mr Hamill, he said that as a master butcher, he "ought to have ensured that the machine was off".
Defence counsel Jonpaul Shields, acting for Mr Moore, submitted there were guidelines in place that stipulated the mincer had to be turned off before it was cleaned. He added that had the instructions been followed, there would have been no accident.
Mr Shields said his client has a "very good health and safety record".
He said it was fortunate that Mr Moore had continued to trade throughout the pandemic, adding: "(He), as part of the community, has assisted in many local drives for food, particularly in relation to older people.
"Whilst not looking to misdirect or assume blame elsewhere, I think Mr Hamill has been very clear that this was a momentary lapse in concentration and an isolated incident for a business that prides itself on safety."
Mr Hamill's barrister, Steven Molloy, said he accepted his client was "the man on the ground", that he "bears responsibility and accepted that at an early juncture". He added, however, that it was not the case that Mr Barrett had been "left to his own devices."
Mr Molloy said his client, who has been a butcher for 35 years, had "visited the victim and his family several times" since the incident. He submitted than when it comes to sentencing, the court should keep in mind that Mr Hamill "is an employee with limited means."
Adjourning the case until August 6, Judge Paul Ramsey QC said he wanted "to get the right sentence for the right case" and freed both men, who appeared in court via videolink, on continuing bail.