National law firm Bevan Brittan has advised Reading Borough Council on its successful prosecution of Arcadia Group Ltd and Topshop/Topman Ltd for breaches of health and safety offences following the death of a 10-year-old boy in store. Both companies have now been sentenced with significant fines imposed as well as an order to pay the Council’s costs.
The prosecution arose following an incident in Reading in 2017 when a queue barrier (weighing about 110kg) toppled over in store fatally injuring a boy. After an extensive investigation and trial in the early part of last year, a jury found both Arcadia Group Limited and Topshop/Topman Limited guilty of breaching health and safety offences. Stoneforce Ltd, who had been contracted by Arcadia/Topshop to fit the barriers, has already pleaded guilty for its failure to discharge its health and safety duties. The barrier manufacturer Realm Projects Ltd was found not guilty.
At the sentencing hearing, Arcadia Group Limited and TopShop/Topman Limited were each fined £650,000 and £350,000 respectively for their breaches (amounting to a combined fine of £1 million) and were each asked to pay £530,000 in respect of the Council’s costs.
Working alongside the Council’s in-house Environmental Health Team, Bevan Brittan’s Health & Safety and Criminal Regulatory Team advised the Council throughout the extensive and detailed investigation into the incident. Bevan Brittan also supported the Council in the formal prosecution against the various companies involved and then throughout the 12-week trial, which culminated in the guilty verdicts.
“This case was resource intensive for the Reading Borough Council, however at its heart was a bereaved family and a desire by the Council to raise awareness that all families should be safe when visiting public environments and a strong feeling that all retail premises should be safe,” said Adam Kendall from Bevan Brittan.
Katie Heath, Principal Environmental Health Officer at Reading Borough Council (and Investigating Officer on this matter) commented:
“This was a challenging, complex and resource intensive case for the Council but one that we felt was important to take as far as we could not only for the family but to highlight key learning points that we hope resonate across the retail sector. Although generally considered low risk, the retail sector is not without risks and these must be suitably assessed and controlled. Duty holders must take their responsibilities seriously and cannot simply discharge their duties to others. Accidents should be properly reviewed and investigated to enable recurrence to be prevented.”
The Bevan Brittan team was led by Partner Adam Kendall along with Senior Associates Samantha Minchin, Claire Leonard and Melissa Stanford and Solicitor Polly Geddes. James Ageros KC (from Crown Office Chambers) and Valarie Charbit (from Red Lion Chambers) were Leading and Junior Counsel representing the Council.