On June 4 2013 an 18st changing room mirror fell and killed Austen Harrison, aged 4 in Hugo Boss. Austen Harrison suffered “devastating” head injuries after the 6ft 6in high unsecured mirror came down on top of him.
Designer brand Hugo Boss has admitted health and safety breaches in connection with the death in the changing room area of the Hugo Boss store in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire.
The incident left the youngster with irreparable brain damage and he was taken off life support at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital four days later.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing Hugo Boss UK Limited, entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company to offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, at Banbury Magistrates’ Court yesterday (2nd June). Prosecuting on behalf of Cherwell District Council, Barry Berlin argued that although the luxury brand could be sentenced at the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum fine of £20,000 per offence was not sufficient.
He asked for the matter to be sent to Crown Court, where the recommended starting point of a £100,000 fine per offence could be imposed or even exceeded.
Mr Berlin said:
“Plainly this is a very serious matter relating to a child aged four-and-a-half who on June 4 2013 was struck on the head by a seven feet tall, 18-stone free-standing three-way mirror.
“It wasn’t fixed to the wall despite its own requirements. We say bearing in mind that the injuries the child sustained resulted in his death this is a case that should be dealt with in the Crown Court.”
District Judge David Chinery agreed with the submission, saying:
“This is quite plainly an exceptionally sad case and one where I consider that the penalties available in this court are clearly, clearly not appropriate to a case of this magnitude.”
In March this year an inquest into Austen’s death heard that the youngster, from Crawley, West Sussex, had been playing with the heavy steel-framed fitting room mirror – while his father tried on a suit – when it fell on him.
Oxford Coroner’s Court heard the mirror had been placed in the changing room area several months before Austen and his parents visited the outlet store in Oxfordshire.
The inquest jury returned a narrative verdict, stating the mirror should have been fixed to the wall and the wall should have been reinforced, while coroner Darren Salter described the incident as “an accident waiting to happen”.
Hugo Boss UK Limited is due to be sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on June 19 after pleading guilty to one offence of an employer failing to ensure the health and safety of a person other than an employee, and one offence of contravening a health and safety regulation.
While this case hasn’t yet reached its conclusion, it appears to be an example of how people can easily become ‘risk tolerant’ ie that obvious health and safety hazards are not spotted and remedied. It also demonstrates the importance of regular monitoring of site standards, eg completing of weekly/monthly checklists.