Leathes Prior help client defeat HSE Enforcement Action

Leathes Prior successfully represented Norwich based business AgChemAccess Limited in its legal battle with the Health and Safety Executive after a dispute over enforcement action taken against the company in July.

The HSE issued enforcement action on July 10 ordering the company not to move any of its UK stock as inspectors believed there was a breach of safety regulations linked to the packaging of a shipment of the herbicide glyphosate.

The ban was eventually lifted on August 29 after the company sought, with the help of Leathes Prior, a judicial review in the High Court and the HSE agreed to quash the notices a matter of hours before the hearing was due to take place.

Nick Gooch, the managing director at AgChemAccess, accused the agency of being too heavy-handed by imposing a blanket ban on the movement of all its products stored in two warehouses, instead of focusing solely on the shipment issue.

He said as well as the legal challenge, which had already cost the company £200,000 in legal fees, which will now be met by the taxpayer, the company, which employs about 65 staff, was suing for damages for around £2m in lost business.

Mr Gooch, who started the business in 2004, said the issue had almost brought the firm to its knees.

“They were told that a small amount of this product had leaked,” Mr Gooch said. “They didn’t stop and ask any questions - they just ploughed on. Because of what was happening we couldn’t move anything and we had to dramatically reduce the workforce with 10 people losing their jobs."

“This has been absolutely disastrous for us,” he added. “We have got products left in store which we can’t sell for another year and if it had gone on another two or three weeks, we would have gone out of business."

“Not only have we had to shed 10 jobs, but our UK and international reputation has suffered,” he added. “We have long-standing customers who have gone elsewhere because we could not deliver to them. Potential new contracts have also been lost. Thanks to our outstanding legal team, headed by Darren Bowen a Partner in Leathes Prior’s Dispute Resolution and Agricultural Teams we can now start trading again.”

Darren Bowen a Partner at Leathes Prior said: "We were surprised by the actions of the HSE inspector in this matter and we were extremely pleased to be able to assist AgChemAccess Limited in successfully challenging the decisions taken. The HSE has an important role to play in protecting the public interest but, as demonstrated in this case, this needs to be balanced against the rights of a business to undertake its legitimate trade. I believe it is fair to say that, on this occasion, the HSE got it very wrong."

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