Managing director found not guilty of Kendal Calling health and safety breaches (From The Westmorland Gazette)
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Managing director found not guilty of Kendal Calling health and safety breaches
9:31am Wednesday 6th March 2013 in News
THE managing director of a company hired to oversee some of the health and safety arrangements at the 2010 Kendal Calling music festival has been found not guilty of failing to warn about the dangers of an 11,000 volt overhead cable in the camping field.
Jason “Jake” Piper and his company Piper Event Services Ltd were accused of health and safety breaches after 46-year-old crane driver Donald Berry suffered catastrophic brain damage when he hit the cable while lifting a portable building into position in the run-up to the festival in 2010.
Mr Berry, who lives in Radcliffe, near Bury in Greater Manchester, happened to be touching the container when the crane hit the cable overhead, sending 6,000 volts – more than 25 times the voltage of a shock from a domestic electricity supply - through his body for about 11 seconds.
He has been left immobile and unable to communicate after suffering what were described in court as “terrible injuries”.
He needs 24-hour care at a neuro-rehabilitation centre which costs £464-a-day – almost £170,000 a year.
Mr Piper, 47, and the company of which he is managing director, had pleaded not guilty at Carlisle Crown Court to a charge of failing to ensure the safety of people working at the festival at Lowther Park.
And yesterday, after a seven-day trial, the jury took just under three hours to find both him and his company not guilty.
But Mr Piper, from Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, is likely to have to pay the full legal costs of his defence after the judge rejected his barrister’s claim that, since he had been cleared, they should be covered by public funds.
Judge Paul Batty QC said Mr Piper had “brought the case on himself” because of the way he had tackled the job of preparing risk assessments at the festival site.
“I would take some persuasion that he ought to receive a single penny from the public purse,” he said.
Mr Piper’s lawyers were allowed a week to decide whether to argue against the decision, but the judge said: “I would not encourage it.”
During the trial barrister Nigel Lawrence, prosecuting on behalf of Eden District Council, said the cable running across the Great Holme Field, seven and a half metres above the ground, was such “a serious and obvious risk” even “an amateur” should have spotted it, never mind a professional health and safety specialist.
He said that although Piper Event Services had been hired as the health and safety professionals the festival organisers needed to act as the “single point of contact for safety issues” they had failed to give any warnings about the overhead cable Mr Berry struck.
“It was an obvious potential hazard – a most obvious and most basic hazard,” he said.
Mr Lawrence said “even the shortest perusal” of a Health and Safety Executive leaflet would have shown how dangerous a cable in such a position was.
The only safe course would have been to turn off the power until the festival was over, he said.
“But nothing was done – the cable was left live,” he said. “Deadening the line was the most obvious solution if anybody had been bothered to think about it in the first place. But nobody spotted the most obvious potential problems.”
But in evidence Mr Piper said that, because the festival organisers had been trying to save money by cutting corners, he had never actually been engaged to advise on all aspects of safety at the site and had not been shown the camping field.
He said that when he drove around the site the promoters had in fact “diverted” his attention away from the camping field, apparently because they did not want him to spot the high-voltage cable.
Defence barrister Julian Goose QC said it was not true that Piper’s company had been engaged as the “single point of contact” for such a wide-ranging task.
He said the Kendal Calling promoters had given the company only “limited instructions” because they wanted to save themselves the expense of paying for a comprehensive health and safety plan.
And, he said, it was only after Mr Berry’s accident that Kendal Calling Ltd did “everything they could to try to push the blame away” by falsely claiming that Mr Piper and his company were responsible.
He said that the promoters did not want Mr Piper to notice the high-voltage cable because they knew that if he did he might prevent them using the field for camping.
“They knew that if they were told that, because of that cable, they could not use the field for camping they would not be able to expand the event as they wanted to do and they would not have made such huge profits,” he said.
“That is why they kept silent about it. That is why they never told Mr Piper about the cable.”
Kendal Calling Ltd pleaded guilty at an earlier stage to exposing an employee to risk by failing to discharge its duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act and will be sentenced later.
The company will be sentenced later, probably in early April.