A Stoke-on-Trent company has been fined £1 million after admitting responsibility for the deaths of two men following an outbreak of Legionnaires disease.
The cause of the outbreak in 2012 was found to be a heated spa pool at the JTF store on King Street in Fenton, which had been on display for about five months.
There 21 individual cases of infection, which resulted in the deaths of Richard Griffin and William Hammersley.
Police were called in to investigate after Stoke-on-Trent City Council environmental health team, and Public Health England, had carried out an investigation, which established that all of the individual cases had visited the JTF store while the spa pool was present.
The infective legionella bacteria thrive in water at a temperature of 30 to 40 C, and the agitation of the water can create an infectious aerosol which can be spread and breathed in causing a serious illness.
After further inquiries Staffordshire Police presented a case file to the Crown Prosecution Service.
JTF Wholesale pleaded guilty to a serious offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
This means the company has accepted responsibility for the outbreak. It also admitted responsibility for 19 other people contracting the disease during the outbreak.
Although charges of corporate manslaughter were authorised, the prosecution has accepted JTF Wholesale’s guilty plea to the significant Health and Safety breach of failing to conduct its undertaking in such a way to ensure that its customers weren’t harmed.
DI Glyn Pattinson, who oversaw the police investigation, said: “I hope today’s sentence brings some comfort to the families of Richard and William, and all those who fell ill as a result of JTF’s actions.
“JTF neglected its health and safety responsibilities and as a result has been handed a significant financial penalty. This should serve as a warning to other businesses – be clear on your duty of care.”
Councillor Randolph Conteh, Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cabinet member for Communities and Safer City, said: “Businesses have a clear responsibility to ensure that customers, staff, and other visitors are safe on their premises and protected from hazardous operations.
“We are pleased that the court has recognised the serious failings which occurred in this case and which led to so many people being affected. Today’s sentence brings to an end a long and complex investigation which has involved the city council, Public Health England and Staffordshire Police working closely together to achieve this outcome.”
The families of the two men that died have also released a statement:
"The past five years have been extremely difficult, we have had to endure years of not knowing who was responsible for the outbreak of Legionnaires Disease at The JTF store in Fenton that had such tragic consequences for us all.
"JTF have hid behind a wall of silence all these years before finally admitting that they were to blame, not only for infecting all those innocent people but to causing the premature deaths of our loved ones.
"The company has remained faceless throughout, not once have they offered us an apology or showed any compassion towards us.
"Words cannot express the huge void that has been left in each and every one of us that could only be filled by having that Husband, Dad, Brother, Grandad and Great Grandad back with us.
"One of those left behind is getting married this year but her father won’t be there walking her down the aisle, that’s the reality.
"We are glad this is finally over but we would not have got this far without the hard work of the Environmental Health department at the City Council. We would also like to thank Staffordshire Police for their efforts in ensuring JTF have, finally, been held to account and to DC Libby Allsop for her continued support throughout."