A forklift truck against a wooden background

Business owner sentenced after forklift accident at pet centre

Defendant failed to tell truth in aftermath of event that left lorry driver tetraplegic.
24 June 2021 , Sarah Campbell

A pet centre owner has been sentenced for health and safety offences after an accident in which a man was paralysed, and about which the defendant initially lied.

The charges against Richard Ellwood and Dickies Pet Centre were brought by the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk as health and safety enforcement authority following an accident at the pet centre’s Oldmedow Road site in King's Lynn on 25 June 2018.

On 27 May 2021 Dickies Pet Centre was handed a £115,000 fine and ordered to pay £70,000 costs. Ellwood was given a 12-month Community Order with a 200-hour unpaid work requirement.

Ellwood was unloading a lorry using a forklift truck. He lifted a load of pet bedding from the lorry with its lifting forks too closely spaced together, so that they went into the wrong apertures in the pallet and could not support it properly. The laden truck was then backed away from the lorry and around a curve with the forks still raised. The load of bedding, which weighed more than 800kg and was more than 2.5 metres high, fell from the pallet on to the lorry driver.

The driver was left tetraplegic as a result of his injuries and now needs 24-hour care to assist him with everyday tasks, even breathing.

Ellwood initially told an independent safety investigator that the load had fallen because the pallet had broken. Later he told a different story, also blaming the pallet and concealing the misplacing of the forks, to the local authority when making a statement under caution. Judge King, sentencing, noted Ellwood’s early guilty plea, sentencing him to a Community Order and unpaid work instead of prison. However, he also said that this inaccurate information had increased the sentences passed.

Vicki Hopps, EH manager at the council, said there were other frustrations too. “We were notified of the case late as it had originally been wrongly allocated to the Health and Safety Executive. So when we were notified, six months had lapsed and we were playing ‘catch up’ with the evidence and obviously the scene of the accident had been cleared and all we had to work from was information and photographs from witnesses on the day. This meant we also had to review all previous evidence collected and ascertain what further information was required,” she said.

“This was one of the most challenging cases that I have dealt with, not only in terms of complexity but also it was emotionally difficult,” Hopps added. “The injured person went to work one day and because of the accident is now tetraplegic and unable to do anything for himself. Speaking to him in his hospital bed will be an image I will not be able to forget in a hurry.”

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