Boss of St Albans cinema The Odyssey is fined £19,000 for asbestos waste exposure

Clearing work at The Odyssey

Clearing work at The Odyssey - Credit: Archant

A cinema-owner has been ordered to pay fines and costs totalling almost £19,000 after he knowingly exposed his family, his friends and members of the public to large amounts of asbestos waste.

James Hannaway talking about The Odyssey

James Hannaway talking about The Odyssey - Credit: Archant

James Hannaway, who owns the Odyssey cinema on London Road, St Albans, pleaded guilty to three charges relating to asbestos on the site.

At Stevenage Magistrates’ Court last week (26), the court heard how Hannaway, 68, of Waterside, Berkhamsted, knew about the presence of asbestos in the Art Deco building but had failed to act.

Paul Hoskins, prosecuting, said: “In 2009, property agents marketed the building for sale. In the sales packet a report [from 2000] was included and there was a comment which stated that asbestos had been identified. We would therefore say that Mr Hannaway was aware of its presence.”

According to Mr Hoskins, Hannaway had failed to provide any training to his staff regarding the asbestos and had not grasped the seriousness of the issue.

The Odyssey cinema on London Road

The Odyssey cinema on London Road - Credit: Archant

Mr Hoskins said that another report, from August 2012, from Caswell Environmental Services detailed that the presence of “loose debris containing asbestos could be found in the boiler room, the auditorium and the foyer”.

The report, according to Mr Hoskins, also recommended that the site be closed for a “short period of time” to “minimise the risk”. However, in September 2012 work began on a massive refurbishment of the site and later, in October, Hannaway was joined by friends and family as well as by members of the public to remove the waste.

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Mark Harris, defending, told the court that although Hannaway may have been aware of the presence of asbestos, he had not grasped the “gravity of the situation”.

Mr Harris explained that Hannaway was a “teacher by trade, but a huge block of his life has been spent organising arts projects, setting up and organising events,” adding that he had an “artistic temperament” and “often fails to take in the details”.

He went on: “He is a man driven by community interests. He was of course aware of the asbestos, but was swept up in the community spirit of the project.

“As soon as he became aware of the seriousness, he did not shirk responsibility; he grasped the nettle, as it were, and pleaded guilty to these offences at the first available opportunity.”

District judge Annabel Pilling told Hannaway: “It’s clear that you’re not someone who undertook a large-scale industrial refurbishment on a whim. But you made a fundamental and potentially fatal error.

“There is evidence of your ignorance and naivety in the fact that you, your family and your friends were involved with the demolition work. You exposed all of them, therefore – yourself included – to the presence of asbestos. It was frighteningly negligent but I accept, not deliberate.”

Ms Pilling added that the excitement of the project “overtook common sense”, and Hannaway’s decision to expose people to the waste posed a “real risk” to their health.

She went on: “As far as harm is concerned, it’s often a matter of chance whether a death or serious injury results from this. It may be many years until the extent of harm that you have caused is known and it may well be that you are exposed to other sorts of litigation as a result.

“This was negligent rather than deliberate, rather than reckless, rather even than careless and there is no suggestion at all that you were prompted by financial motivation.”

Hannaway was ordered to pay fines totalling £11,660 - reduced from £17,500 for an early guilty plea - as well as a statutory surcharge of £120 and contribute £7,000 to the prosecution costs, making Hannaway’s total costs for the offences £18,780.