A “disgraceful” businessman who was disqualified from being a director has been jailed for more than two years for safety breaches and fraud after a foundry worker was crushed to death beneath a two-tonne metal sand-moulding box.
Paul O’Boyle, 56, was only a third of the way through his disqualification when 40-year-old Ian Middlemiss of Southampton was killed when the heavy equipment fell from a crane at Aztech BA’s Alton plant. Colleagues scrambled to free him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
The now-insolvent company was fined £100,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. O’Boyle’s colleague Russell Lee, 67, was given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £8,000 in prosecutions costs for aiding and abetting O’Boyle in his disqualification. The court was told he was registered with Companies House as director of the business.
Winchester Crown Court heard how HSE inspectors investigating the death identified serious problems with the systems of work and with the lifting equipment itself. HSE became aware of the Companies Act offences and initiated a joint investigation with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
O’Boyle had been disqualified from acting as a company director for 12 years in 2006 but continued to act in that capacity at a number of foundry companies, including Aztech BA Ltd.
HSE found the crane at the centre of the incident had not been checked and tested as the law requires, and there were inadequate provisions in place covering competency, supervision and training.
The court was told at the time of Mr Middlemiss’s death the foundry was the subject of three improvement notices served by HSE following visits in September 2009 and June 2010. Few of the required improvements had been satisfactorily implemented. HSE argued Mr Middlemiss’s death could have been avoided had the changes in the enforcement notices taken place.
In his sentencing comments, His Honour Judge A H Barnett said O’Boyle had behaved in a “disgraceful” way. After reading a statement from Mr Middlemiss’s father, the judge said the impact of the incident had been devastating: “It was harrowing, and underlines the personal tragedy that could have been avoided.”
The judge heard that Paul O’Boyle, in addition to acting as a director in no fewer than four companies, was responsible for the cross-firing of cheques to provide funds for Aztech.
On 29 August Paul O’Boyle was jailed for a total of 26 months: 16 months for a breach of the HSWA; 10 months for a breach of the Fraud Act 2006; and a total of eight months concurrent for breaches of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. He was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum term of 15 years.
Russell Lee was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years after admitting the same breach of the HSWA and a concurrent six months, also suspended, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting O’Boyle. Lee was also disqualified as a director for seven years.
“The safety standards at Aztech BA Ltd fell well short of those required, as Paul O’Boyle and Russell Lee were only too aware,” said Tim Galloway, HSE’s director of operations, southern division after the sentencing. “They knew improvements were needed to protect workers like Ian Middlemiss and they had clear responsibilities as senior management to ensure the necessary changes were implemented.
“Sadly one of the many areas that was seemingly overlooked was the system of work surrounding the overhead crane. Had this been properly assessed then Ian’s tragic death could have been prevented.”
David Middlemiss, Ian’s father, said: “I brought my son up since he was an infant and cared for him all his life until his death. His passing has left a huge empty void in my life, a devastating loss that I will never recover from.”
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