Power company fined £1million after death of Saffron Walden runner

James Kew

James Kew - Credit: Archant

UK Power Network has been slammed by a judge and fined £1million over a horror accident in which a jogger was electrocuted after running into an 11,000 volt cable which had come down.

A power company prosecuted on health and safety grounds after the accidental electrocution of Steven

A power company prosecuted on health and safety grounds after the accidental electrocution of Stevenage scientist Dr James Kew while he was out jogging has been hit with a £1 million fine. - Credit: Archant

The fine followed findings that the company failed to act promptly and remotely switch off cable which electrocuted a drug research scientist Dr James Kew, 41, in an Essex cornfield. He ran into the overhead power line which had come down to head height over a public footpath. Dr Kew died instantly from severe burns.

The judge criticised “the culture” of UK Power for sending out engineers to assess reported problems of downed lines rather than switching off the lines remotely from control rooms.

Married family man Dr Kew, of Ashdon, near Saffron Walden, who was director of biology in GlaxoSmithKline’s research department in Stevenage, Herts, ran into the sagging line 17 minutes after UK Power was given the co-ordinates of the faulty line by a concerned couple who spotted it while out walking their dogs.

Dr Kew was in the lead on a regular Tuesday training night for Saffron Striders’ Running Club on the Harcamlow Way - Harlow to Cambridge route - when the fatal accident happened. He was crossing a field near Debden Road, Newport.

UK Power Network (Operations) Ltd admitted a health and safety offence in that between 27 November 2008 and 31 July 2013 it failed to ensure that Dr Kew and others were not exposed to risk of electrocution by coming into contact with a live conductor from a wholly or partly downed overhead power line.

It has since revised its policy and procedures which have been adopted across the industry, the court heard.

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Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC, imposed the £1m fine at Chelmsford Crown Court, and ordered the company to pay a further £153,459 costs in respect of the prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive.

He said a similar incident on New Year’s Day 2007 in the Plymouth area “had screamed a warning across the whole grid and the defendants didn’t respond sufficiently to that warning”.

He continued: “This incident happened 20-30 minutes after the report to the control room which could access the facility to ‘de-energise’ or switch off the fallen line. They didn’t do that.

“The reason for the failure was in my judgement cultural. The defendants’ culture was, if there was a problem on the line, to send an engineer to look and see what it was and how it could be put right and the engineer would assess the danger.”

The judge added: “However they are under pressure from the regulators not to have power cuts. It may be these elements kept their minds from focusing on the essential necessity to deal with immediate dangers from fallen lines remotely by switching off the line where it’s appropriate rather than to wait for the engineer to go and see and make an assessment.

“This cultural inclination was not in accordance with the defendant’s duty to take all reasonable care to avoid danger to members of the public.

“Had there been a different culture and different procedures ... it would have been likely that the line would have been switched off immediately that a report was made to the control room and we would not have lost Dr Kew.”

A spokesman for UK Power said: “ Ever since the tragic accident our thoughts have been with Dr Kew’s family and friends and are acutely aware of its permanent consequences for them. We are truly sorry that it happened

“Safety is our top priority as we deliver power across the East, South East and London, and for two years UK Power Networks has had the best safety performance in the industry.

“We urge anyone who sees equipment they feel may be dangerous to call us immediately on 0800 31 63 105”.