Judges have ruled that a discarded cigarette was the probable cause of a huge blaze that broke out at a recycling centre near Milton Keynes in 2005.
According to the BBC, the Court of Appeal said there was “compelling” evidence that a freelance electrician working on the site had smoked in a prohibited area, sparking the fire.
Its verdict means that professional liability insurance firm National Insurance and Guarantee Corporation Limited (NIG) will have to pay Milton Keynes Borough Council £1.7 million.
NIG covered Michael Nulty, the electrician in question, at the time of the incident. Mr Nulty passed away in 2010 but prior to his death denied smoking outside the staff canteen.
His insurers blamed an arcing electricity cable for starting the fire, but the judge in the case insisted this was “very much less likely” to have been the case than the former scenario.
This ruling was reached after “painstaking examination” of all the evidence from the scene.
“Rational analysis of the cable theory showed that it was highly improbable,” said Lord Justice Toulson. “It would have required a remarkable combination of unlikely events.”
He also pointed out that since Mr Nulty was working alone at the time of the incident, he would have had the opportunity to smoke.
“The circumstantial evidence that he did so on this occasion was compelling,” the judge remarked.
The fire took two days to extinguish and destroyed around 80 per cent of the plant in Old Wolverton.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment must be carried out on all commercial properties in England and Wales, including recycling plants and other factories.
If the assessment is deemed to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.