£75,000 Fine for Kemble Air Services following Death of Chief Fire Officer

    An airport company whose health and safety breaches led to the death of its chief fire officer in a freak accident with a gas cylinder has been fined £75,000.

    Dad of one Steve Mills, 45, was killed on April 8 2011 when a giant gas cylinder suddenly discharged and hit him on the head as he was moving it at Cotswold Airport – the former RAF Kemble site near Cirencester.

    Last month, a jury found the accident followed a failure by airport owners Kemble Air Services to carry out a risk assessment on the cylinders.

    At Gloucester Crown Court yesterday, Judge William Hart said he accepted that Mr Mills, of Minety, Wiltshire, had contributed to his death by the way he tried to move the dangerous cylinder in an ‘ad hoc’ single-handed way.

    The court heard Mr Mills was moving the 5ft high cylinders when one discharged and killed him.

    A safety pin was found in his hand.

    But the company did not know that Mr Mills, an experienced and highly trained firefighter, was going to do anything with them on the day he died. Kemble Air Services denies failing to make suitable and sufficient risk assessments of the danger to both employees and non-employees at the aerodrome on April 7, 2011.

    The court has heard that the cylinders were used for fire suppression and were inside several containers acquired by the airport from the army depot at Ashchurch, near Tewkesbury, in September 2010.

    The prosecution says that before anything was done with the containers and their contents the company should have produced a full risk assessment.

    Mr Maxwell-Scott said: “Mr Mills was a highly valued member of the team at Cotswold Airport and his loss in such tragic and wholly unforeseen circumstances has shaken the company to its core. He had been receiving regular training right up until his tragic death.

    “He knew that one had to handle pressurised cylinders with care.

    “He knew one should treat them as being full until one knows for sure that they are empty.

    “He also knew that firefighters should always read safety warnings – and there were clear warnings with these cylinders.”

    The defence case was simply that at the time of Mr Mills’ tragic death the point had not been reached when the company was required by law to risk assess those cylinders.

    “It had no idea that he would have acted in the way he did that day.”

    Neither Gloucestershire police nor Wiltshire fire service - which also received the containers from the MOD - had at the time of the tragedy done risk assessments for the containers and cylinders they had received, he said.

    But Judge William Hart said he was satisfied that if there had been a proper risk assessment by the company Mr Mills would have complied with it.

    The company received a fine of £75,000, and ordered to pay costs of £98,000.  The company were given 15 months to pay the judge heard that it is a loss-making firm and the penalty would be a major burden on it.

    At the company’s trial, when it denied two health and safety breaches, the jury was told the army surplus cylinder had been designed to pump a heavy gas into a sprinkler system if fire broke out in areas where electronic equipment was used.

    It was one of many which had been in use in Iraq but had been shipped back to the army storage depot at Ashchurch.

    The 5ft cylinders and their containers were then offered free of charge to the airport company and had stood disused at Cotswold Airport for several months before the day of the tragedy.

Collated by Philip Turnbull

Registered Office: Southwold House, 66 Botley Road, Park Gate, Southampton, United Kingdom. Company Number: 07810000