Three more firms found guilty over British oil depot blast

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Three companies have been found guilty of health and safety breaches over a 2005 explosion at a British oil depot, Europe's biggest blaze since World War II, officials said Friday.

They will be sentenced on July 16 alongside French oil giant Total and another firm which had already pleaded guilty, and could face unlimited fines, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency said.

The blast measured 2.4 on the Richter scale for earthquakes and could be heard 125 miles (200 kilometres) away. It left 43 people injured and forced 2,000 others to leave their homes.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited, a joint venture between oil giants Chevron and Total, was found guilty of failing to prevent major accidents and limit their effects. It also pleaded guilty to polluting nearby waters.

Meanwhile TAV Engineering Ltd and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd were found guilty at St. Albans Crown Court, north of London, of failing to protect workers and members of the public. All three verdicts occurred this week.

"When the largest fire in peacetime Europe tore through the Buncefield site on that Sunday morning in December 2005, these companies had failed to protect workers, members of the public and the environment," an HSE spokesman said.

"The scale of the explosion and fire at Buncefield was immense and it was miraculous that nobody died. Unless the high hazard industries truly learn the lessons, then we may not be that fortunate in future."

Total UK has previously admitted three health and safety breaches in connection with the explosion, while the British Pipeline Agency Ltd had admitted two charges.

The Buncefield depot, which distributes aviation fuel to airports in the London area, was run by Total UK and Texaco, part of US oil giant Chevron.

© 2010 AFP

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