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Building firm fine over work death increased eight-fold

Appeal judges increase fine on Discovery Homes (Scotland) Ltd from £5,000 to £40,000 after Crown appeal over undue leniency.

Building firm fine over work death increased eight-fold

A building firm has had a fine imposed on it following the death of a worker on a construction site increased eight-fold by appeal judges on Tuesday.

Discovery Homes (Scotland) Ltd was originally fined £5,000 after admitting a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

However, following a Crown appeal the sentence was increased to £40,000.

Bricklayer Andrezej Freitag, 55, died on May 29 2008 after falling down a shaft from the third to the second storey of a block of houses under construction at Lilybank Mews, in Dundee.

The Polish building worker suffered an unsurvivable brain injury in the plunge along with skull, rib and vertebrae fractures.

The Kinross-based firm later admitted failing to provide a guard rail or barrier to prevent anyone falling down the smoke extraction shaft.

After the company was fined at Dundee Sheriff Court the Crown decided to appeal against the sentence claiming that it was unduly lenient.

The sheriff had said he would have fined the firm £7,500 but would reduce it following the guilty plea.

He said he would have normally imposed "a very substantial fine" but was under the impression that would almost inevitably lead to the firm going into administration or liquidation.

The Lord Justice General, Lord Hamilton, who heard the appeal with Lord Kingarth and Lord Carloway, said: "The sheriff rightly took the view that this was a serious offence which in ordinary circumstances would be expected to attract a very substantial fine. We would not nbe surprised if he had in mind a sum in six figures."

"However, he took the view that the circumstances were not such as to warrant a course which would inevitably put the firm out of business. That was a view he was entitled to take.

"What he did not, however, appreciate was that, on the face of the accounts, there was a mechanism by which the firm could, over time, meet a much more substantial fine than pounds £7,500 without inevitably being forced into administration or liquidation," said the senior judge.

He said the building company had built up substantial profits which allowed it to pay its two director-shareholders £50,000 a year each.

Following a brief hearing at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh that agreed to give the firm time to pay with the company's counsel, Gavin Anderson, offering £5,000 a month.

The judges rejected a further Crown bid to increase a fine of £4,000 imposed on Discovery Homes director Richard Pratt following the incident. Pratt, 34, also admitted a breach of Health and Safety legislation.

Pratt, of Park Place, Elie, in Fife, told police during an interview that he had been aware that a suitable barrier ought to have been in place to prevent workmen falling down the shaft.

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