British Car Auctions Limited fined £1.1m for a Health and Safety Offence arising from a serious Injury at a Vehicle Auction

David Travers QC, leading Laura Phillips, prosecuted British Car Auctions Limited after an incident at a vehicle auction site operated by BCA at Eldon Way, Paddock Wood, Tonbridge, Kent, in 2018.

BCA, which had a turnover last year of £316,499,000, sold cars online and at 24 auction sites around the country, including the Paddock Wood site. It had no previous convictions.

Last week the matter was listed for trial at Maidstone Crown Court, and on the first day set for trial the company changed its plea to one of guilty.

The facts were striking. David summarised it during submissions on Monday 28 February: ‘In a sentence, the defendant company did not do what was required of it by its own risk assessment’

BCA had a generic risk assessment applicable to all sites which required movement of vehicles around the site to be monitored to ensure pedestrians did not enter vehicle routes. Nothing appeared to have been done to make that risk assessment site specific, but more to the point, this feature of the risk assessment was not implemented. Indeed, in a process BCA called ‘dynamic viewing’ prospective purchasers milled around moving cars, passing between and around them, and sometimes asking drivers to rev the engine as the cars were driven down the ramp into the auction hall. In consequence when, on 3 October 2022, an agency driver working for BCA lost control of a Porsche 911 on the ramp pedestrians were too close to avoid injury and two people were struck by the car. One customer managed to roll over the bonnet and received only minor injuries but the other suffered devastating injuries to his right leg which was almost severed when he was pinned against an Armco barrier. The entire incident was captured on CCTV, which was played in court.

His Honour Judge St John-Stevens observed that BCA had been right to abandon the argument which it had advanced pre-trial that the situation on the ramp was not materially different from a car park. In passing sentence he moved up within the category range within the sentencing guideline both because the breach was a significant cause of actual injury and because of the number of people exposed to the risk He imposed a fine of £1,100,000 and ordered BCA to pay the prosecutions costs in the sum of £97,207.

The case very pointedly demonstrates that it is not sufficient for a business simply to carry out a risk assessment it also has to ensure the control measures in it are implemented. Press reports can be found in Car Dealer, AM Online and Kent Online.