THE boss of a St Helens gas firm found guilty of health and safety breaches after a massive explosion says he will continue fighting to clear his name.
John Webster, of Archer Grove, was found guilty after being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a gas explosion at North West Gases on Alma Street, in which Mr Webster and two other employees suffered injury. He is considering an appeal and has reacted angrily to claims he recklessly endangered his employees.
Mr and Webster and another employee were attempting to remove the valve on a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder when gas escaped from the cylinder and ignited, causing an explosion and fire which lifted the roof off the premises.
A judge at Liverpool Crown Court fined Mr Webster £22,500 and ordered him to pay £2,500 in prosecution costs after a jury found him guilty of failing to take reasonable care of his employees.
However, Mr Webster has said he is considering appealing the decision and hit back at the HSE’s claims, defending his company, which has been trading for 30 years, and the systems put in place to prevent accidents.
Mr Webster, 55, said: “A company doesn’t gain a previously unblemished safety record stretching over 30 years at two separate North West sites by not following strict guidelines drawn up for the handling of LPG Cylinders.
“I was rightly proud of our safety record.”
Mr Webster was also informed that, as his company had assets in excess of £30,000, he would not be entitled to legal aid.
Mr Webster says the threat of losing the company he founded and built up over three decades during the four-year legal proceedings has taken its toll on him and his family.
He said: “I had to have everything valued, the house, the assets, the whole shooting match. I’ve lost my savings and my pension with this.
“At one point I thought I would have to sell the company to fund my own defence, but that would have made 15 people redundant, some of whom I’d employed for years. “I also thought about selling my house, which would have made my wife and I homeless, until I realised the bank had a charge over it and they would have called the loan in if I sold.
“It’s been really difficult, as soon as suppliers heard I was on trial they started reining in the credit or pulling out altogether, but we’re still struggling on. You can’t just walk away from your life’s work.”
St Helens Reporter