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OFFICERS FACE COURT THREAT

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Warning bug case ruling could open legal floodgates...
Warning bug case ruling could open legal floodgates

By Mark Smulian

Senior officers and councillors could face huge fines for future health and safety offences, following a council manager's conviction over her town's 2002 legionnaire's disease outbreak.

Gillian Beckingham, a£30,000-a-year design services head at Barrow-in-Furness BC, was fined£15,000 for failing to protect the health and safety of others under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Her lawyer Kathryn Gilbertson predicted: 'This opens the floodgates to cases against senior councillors and employees where death or serious injury occurs.

'The Health & Safety Executive and the police will now go after [them]. Up to now, local government has been very lucky.'

Mr Justice Brunton said the fine would have been far higher had Ms Beckingham been 'a lady of wealth'.

She was cleared on seven counts of manslaughter arising from Britain's worst outbreak of the disease, when defective air conditioning in a leisure centre emitted a contaminated spray.

Barrow was fined£125,000 for breaching the Act on liabilities to third parties. It also faces£90,000 costs.

The judge said the council would have been fined£1m were it a large commercial organisation.

Ms Beckingham was tried last year, but that jury failed to agree verdicts on the manslaughter charges and a judge cleared the council of corporate manslaughter (LGC, 28 April 2005). The crown then sought her retrial on all charges.

Ms Gilbertson said Ms Beckingham's defence had been that she was not directly linked to the deaths 'because she was an architect and was just assisting in procuring a new maintenance contract'.

Chief executive Tom Campbell resisted calls to resign from victim's relations.

He apologised, but said: 'If I had any reason to resign, I would have resigned four years ago.'

Neither the council nor Unison supported Ms Beckingham's legal costs, which were met from legal aid.

Ms Gilbertson said: 'Perhaps other employees ought to consider their position carefully as to whether their employer or union would leave them alone where they face serious criminal charges arising from their workplace responsibilities.'

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