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Tribute to 'devoted dad' as Home Bargains owner fined over his death

By John Scott | Dudley | Crime | Published:

The owner of Home Bargains has been fined £50,000 for comparatively minor safety failures after it was discovered the death of a worker was not its fault.

Gary Pickering

T J Morris – which has a £2 billion annual turnover and 30,000 staff – was also ordered to pay £150,000 costs.

The misunderstanding stemmed from expert Dr Dominic Swan wrongly concluding poor maintenance was responsible for the accident that took the life of lorry driver Gary Pickering.

Mr Pickering died aged 34 after getting trapped as he delivered goods to the Home Bargains store in Dudley’s Churchill shopping precinct at 2.20am in September 2013.

But a further inquiry discovered the real cause of the accident was an "unknown and unforeseeable" design feature not highlighted in the manufacturer’s manual, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

Trapped

Married father-of-one Mr Pickering, from Swinton, Manchester, backed his lorry too close to a wall for him to comfortably operate the tail lift while standing next to controls at the rear of the truck.

He stood on the shop’s raised metal delivery floor and, when the tail lift jammed partially open, leant forward to press a control button.

Neither he – nor his employer – realised this manoeuvre would quickly slam shut the tail lift by activating a hydraulic travel lock not visible to the driver, the court was told.

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His head was trapped between the lift and the back of the lorry and he was asphyxiated. No staff were on duty to help with out-of-hours deliveries.

'We will never recover'

In a statement, Mr Pickering's wife Sharon said she hoped new risk assessments and training would stop other families from suffering her pain.

“Gary was a much loved and devoted husband, daddy, son and brother," Mrs Pickering said.

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"We miss him every day and his loss is something we will never recover from.

"A young, fit man should not go to work, never to return home.

"Whilst we appreciate that there were unforeseen issues with the tail lift, there should have been an appropriate risk assessment on the loading bay area, and the complexities of parking such a large vehicle in the dark, which would have enabled the tail lift to be operated in the correct way which would have not resulted in him being killed.

"It is only right that his employer has pleaded guilty to these offences, and we sincerely hope that they will implement the necessary adequate risk assessments and training to protect their other drivers as we would never wish to hear of any other family having to go through the pain and devastation that we are living with."

'No indication'

Mr Kevin Hegarty QC, prosecuting, confirmed: "The incident that led to the death was caused overwhelmingly by the closure of the tail lift in an unexpected way. The pleas by the company recognise their failures."

Mr Andrew Langdon QC, defending, observed: "Investigations into this incident were wrong footed for many years but a case which started with this company being blamed for the death now sees this claim no longer laid at its door but somewhere else."

He said there was no indication in the user's manual warning of this potentially dangerous feature of the Dhollandia tail lift which was otherwise thought to be operated manually.

The insurer of T J Morris is now trying to recover losses from Dhollandia which were incurred as a result of initially taking the blame for the death, the court heard.

T J Morris pleaded guilty to providing insufficient information for its workers about the potential pitfalls of parking too close to the wall while delivering to the shop and not meeting its responsibility to assess risk for employees.

Judge Amjad Nawaz ruled: "The death was due to an unknown and unforeseeable design fault in the tail lift and not the company."

John Scott

By John Scott
Reporter/News Feature Writer

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