Oil company to admit negligence in Buncefield explosion case but dispute over damages goes on
TWO companies fighting a £1 billion compensation claim following the devastation caused by the gigantic Buncefield explosion in December 2005 were due to admit in court today (Friday) that the blast was caused by negligence. Total UK and Hertfordshire Oil
TWO companies fighting a £1 billion compensation claim following the devastation caused by the gigantic Buncefield explosion in December 2005 were due to admit in court today (Friday) that the blast was caused by negligence.
Total UK and Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL) confirmed that they had admitted to claimants that the blast in the early hours of a Sunday morning was partly caused by negligence of the duty supervisor at the time of the incident.
But neither company will be admitting civil or criminal liability.
The admission is the latest development leading up to the forthcoming civil case in which the companies are to fight claims from insurance companies, small businesses and around 280 families whose properties were damaged or destroyed in the blast.
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Total and HOSL, a joint company made up of the oil giants Total and Chevron, are disputing who should take responsibility for the blast and compensate the victims.
Those involved were due to meet today at a pre-court hearing at the High Court in London where Total UK and HOSL will make the admission. It is understood that Chevron would not be admitting negligence.
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The case will begin on October 1 and depending on the outcome, a criminal case may follow.
A spokesperson for Total UK said that in civil cases defendants were encouraged to make early admissions of certain matters to reduce disagreement, and taking all factors into consideration, Total UK considered this the best approach.
"The question of which company involved in the dispute is liable for the admitted act of negligence by the duty supervisor at the Buncefield terminal will be determined through the civil court case which starts in October 2008," he added.
Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning welcomed the move but said it was clear the blame game had begun as they were already pinning it on a supervisor. "Who was responsible for the supervisor?" he asked.
Des Collins, senior partner of Collins Solicitors who is representing 280 claimants who were victims of the blast, said: "It's a major step forward in the litigation and my clients will be delighted that Total has admitted that this negligence took place. But we must ask why this position was not taken two-and-a-half years ago. We hope it will lead to an earlier settlement."
The Hemel Hempstead fuel depot was ripped apart in the explosion which was so powerful, it was heard on the Continent and could be measured on the Richter scale which is used for measuring earthquakes.
Nearly 200 firefighters battled for four days to put out the blaze, the biggest in peacetime Europe. Nobody was killed but 40 people were injured.
One of the residential areas very badly affected was Cherry Tree Lane in the St Albans district, which is extremely close to the Buncefield site. There was also damage in both Redbourn and St Albans. Ground water in the area is still being monitored to check for contamination from the chemical foam used by the firefighters.