NEWS: Electricity firm has fine slashed by 85% in court of appeal

A utilities company has won an 85% reduction on its fine over the death of a linesman who fell from height, bringing the total down from £900,000 to £135,000.

Electricity North West had been fined £900,000 for the death of 68-year-old John Flowers Flowers on 31 March 2017.

Three appeal judges considered the facts of the fatality which occurred in 2013 in which Mr Flowers was killed when he fell six metres from a ladder.

Flowers, who had been an experienced linesman, had climbed a ladder resting against a wooden pole to trim ivy away from overhead power lines when he fell backwards. He had accidentally cut through his work positioning strap, causing him to fall to his death, Preston Crown Court had been told in 2017.

But at the Court of Appeal on 23 August, three judges concluded there was not ‘sufficient basis’ for high culpability, which His Honour Justice Altham at Preston Crown Court had found.

The judges then moved the fine to between low and medium culpability, giving the new starting point of between £35,000 (low culpability) and £300,000 (medium culpability), because the firm’s offence was on ‘the cusp’ of the two.

They also found there had been a low likelihood of harm, moving the case down to harm category 3.

“We have concluded that the right sentence in this case was a fine of £135,000. We do not consider that any further upward adjustment to reflect turnover should be made on the facts of this case,” they said.

However, the company had also appealed against its conviction for breaching the Work at Height Regulations 2005. ENW had argued that the judge “ought not to have attempted” to apply the Sentencing Guidelines for a health and safety offence, because they had carried out a “sufficient risk assessment” which did not expose anyone to a risk of harm.

The defence had said for example that the risk assessment “made it clear” that a linesman should not climb a pole without a fall arrest lanyard.

However, the three judges dismissed the appeal against conviction; but reduced the fine from £900,000 to £135,000.

Full Court of Appeal judgment available here