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Major pub chain sentenced over Merseyside landlord's death

A major pub chain has been fined £300,000 after a Merseyside landlord died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and tenants at another 474 pubs were put at risk.

Paul Lee was found unconscious by a cleaner at the Aintree Hotel on Aintree Road in Bootle just after midday on 12 November 2007. He had turned on a gas fire in his living room ten hours earlier before falling asleep.

The 41-year-old suffered a heart attack due to lack of oxygen on the way to the hospital and died the following morning without regaining consciousness. He had worked as the tenant landlord at the pub for less than a month.

The owner of the Aintree Hotel, Enterprise Inns plc, was prosecuted after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the fire may not have been serviced since 1979 and the chimney was completely blocked.

The West Midlands based company, which owns approximately 7,700 pubs across the UK and has an annual turnover of £818 million, admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Enterprise Inns should have ensured that gas safety inspections were carried out at 868 of its pubs at least every 12 months, but that only 394 had valid certificates. The gas heater which caused Mr Lee's death should have been checked before he took over the tenancy.

Enterprise Inns also received a written warning from HSE in 2001, following a fire at one of its properties in Birmingham, which highlighted a systematic failure to implement annual gas safety checks.

Sharon Lee, Mr Lee's sister, said:

"Since Paul's death nearly three years ago, there is still anger and disbelief amongst his family and friends that it was entirely preventable.

"Paul's death will very possibly save the lives of others in the future, but it should not have taken the loss of his life to highlight the wider failings of Enterprise Inns.

"We are fully aware that Enterprise Inns is now compliant with gas safety legislation, but companies must not put other people's lives at risk by allowing similar lapses to occur in the future."

Iain Evans, the investigating inspector at HSE, said:

"It is shocking that a major pub chain failed to ensure regular gas safety checks were carried out at more than 400 of its properties. As a result, one man has been killed and hundreds of other lives have been put at risk.

"Tests we carried out on the gas fire at the Aintree Hotel showed that the workplace limit for exposure to carbon monoxide would have been exceeded within five minutes of it being turned on, and would have reached a level known to be fatal within an hour.

"The chimney from the fire was completely blocked so there was nowhere for the carbon monoxide to escape. Instead, it gradually built up in the room and starved Mr Lee's organs of oxygen until he was left unconscious.

"What makes this case so tragic is that Mr Lee's life could have been saved if Enterprise Inns had continued to obey the written warning it received about gas safety six years earlier, instead of falling back into old habits."

Enterprise Inns plc, of Monkspath Hall Road in Solihull was ordered to pay £19,000 towards the cost of the prosecution in addition to the fine at Liverpool Crown Court on 5 October.

Gas Safe Register is the official gas safety registration scheme in Great Britain. All gas fitters must be Gas Safe registered to fit, fix and service gas appliances.

Homeowners and landlords can check whether a gas engineer is registered by visiting www.gassaferegister.co.uk or calling 0800 408 5500.

Notes to editors

  1. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."
  2. Gas engineers undertaking gas installation and maintenance work must be registered with a body approved by the HSE. The approved body is Gas Safe Register. More information and a full list of registered engineers can be found on www.gassaferegister.co.uk
  3. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain's national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk

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Issued on behalf of HSE by COI News and PR North West

Updated 2010-05-10