A headmaster who was found guilty of health and safety offences following the death of a three-year-old pupil has had his conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal.
20 May 2008 – This case has implications for landlords
James Porter, who has been head of Hillgrove School, Bangor, Gwynedd for over 30 years, was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive following the death of Kian Williams.
Kian jumped from a flight of steps in a remote part of the playground in July 2004 while pretending to be Batman. He jumped from the fourth step but misjudged the movement, tripped on the final step and landed head first.
Although the fall did not break his skin or fracture his skull, he suffered secondary swelling of the brain and died five weeks later from MRSA.
In July 2007 Mr Porter was convicted at Mold Crown Court of failing to take adequate measures to protect the children from the steps. He was fined £12,500 and ordered to pay £7,500 costs.
However the Court of Appeal has now overturned the decision [19 May]. Lord Justice Moses said Kian’s death was “nothing to do with this headmaster” and that there was nothing within the steps themselves that created a risk of injury. “What is important in health and safety cases is that any alleged risk should be real and not just theoretical or fanciful,” he added.
Steffan Groch, regulatory partner with DWF, who acted for Mr Porter, said the judgement was a ‘common sense decision’ and said that the case against Mr Porter should never have been brought. He added: “Mr Porter and his wife Sylvia have run Hillgrove School for over 30 years during which time they have achieved the highest standards of care and an exemplary safety record.
“While their sympathies are very much with Kian’s family, they feel the judgement has vindicated their own position and also struck a blow for the teaching profession, which would have faced an almost impossible burden had the conviction remained.”
Groch says that the case establishes some good principles for all health and safety cases which will enable employers to defend themselves with more confidence, in the knowledge that the courts will look carefully at prosecutions and challenge the HSE to explain their case more fully.
He added: “The Porters would like to thank the many well wishers who have supported them during this time and are now looking forward to continuing their day to day work in running the school.”
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