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HEX verdict: record fines Geoconsult to appeal

AUSTRIAN TUNNELLING consultant Geoconsult will this week begin appeal proceedings after being convicted in the High Court and fined £500,000 for breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act during the 1994 Heathrow Express collapse.

Main contractor Balfour Beatty also said it was considering an appeal after being fined a record £1.2M following pleading guilty to similar offences. Both were ordered to pay £100,000 towards the prosecution costs.

In a statement released this week, Geoconsult claimed the HSE had 'breached its paramount legal obligation to prosecute fairly' and said that the judge made 'procedural orders which resulted in prejudice to Geoconsult.'

As NCE went to press on Tuesday Geoconsult confirmed that it had instructed its lawyers to lodge an appeal against both the fine and conviction. It had originally pleaded not guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Balfour Beatty managing director Andy Rose also indicated that it might appeal against the fine. It pleaded guilty to similar charges. 'The level of fines will be hard for both companies,' said Rose. 'I don't believe that either Geoconsult or Balfour Beatty were knowingly culpable.'

The previous record HSWA fine was £750,000, handed to Swedish contractor FEAB after the 1995 Ramsgate walkway collapse in which six people died. The size of fines for Heathrow surprised many, as nobody was injured in the collapse.

'We are very disappointed,' said Rose. 'We have 28 days to make our minds up but the decision will not be taken until we have had a chance to consider it with our lawyers.'

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