Sainsbury’s has been slammed with a £1million fine after a customer sustained life-changing injuries and shattered her jaw due to a store “booby trap”.
Patricia Crampton was on her mobility scooter when she drove face first into twine that had been stretched taut between two pillars in the car park of the supermarket.
Prosecutors argued that she could have been decapitated in the incident, which left her needing emergency surgery with titanium plates inserted in her jaw after the twine split her mouth open.
The hearing was also told how the “trap” at the Newbury superstore, in Berkshire, put thousands of other shoppers at risk.
Elizabeth Varcoe, prosecuting on behalf of West Berkshire Council, said the retailer had set up a queuing system in the car park during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to the Mirror.
This initially used high visibility, red and white plastic tape to mark lanes but when these were vandalized, the store manager opted to use thin but strong baler twine.
Mrs Crampton arrived at the store on June 21, 2020, on her mobility scooter and ran into the twine at speed, face first.
The twine caused serious injuries, said Ms Varcoe, splitting Mrs Crampton’s mouth open and fracturing her teeth, jaw and palate.
Mrs Crampton was then taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for emergency surgery.
Ms Varcoe added: “At one point she suffered heart failure during the operation.”
Surgeons had to implant titanium plates and screws to rebuild her jaw and palate, and Mrs Crampton still needs ongoing medical treatment.
Ms Varcoe suggested the twine amounted to an inadvertent “booby trap” which could have strangled or even decapitated someone during the seven weeks it was used.
She told the court no risk assessment had been conducted on the use of the twine to replace the plastic tape.
Sainsbury’s admitted exposing customers to danger and failing to make a suitable risk assessment contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Kate Blackwell QC, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson, said the company had a previously spotless health and safety record with zero previous convictions.
She added that store management co-operated with the investigation and that the company had so far paid Mrs Crampton more than £31,000 towards her medical and care bills.
She told the court: “I begin by saying how sorry Sainsbury’s is for Mrs Crampton having had to suffer in the way she has.
“Thankfully this was a very unusual situation.”
Ms Blackwell added that the store manager had decided to use the twine “for the best of reasons” and said it was removed immediately.
She challenged a suggestion that Mrs Crampton could have been decapitated.
District judge Samuel Goozee responded: “Care should be taken not to sensationalize the risk.”
I have acknowledged that the company “had to rapidly respond to Government guidance to protect the public during a pandemic while continuing to provide an essential service to the public”.
Judge Goozee added: “A sufficient risk assessment would have identified the risks from the baler twine extended between metal posts.
“Ironically the manager’s decision to use the twine was a response to other health and safety issues that would have arisen from vandalism and weather damage.
“Nevertheless it was a decision that was inadequate. It would be a step too far to say there was a real and significant risk of death – that’s conjecture.
“But it did expose a large number of members of the public to risk.”
The judge fined the supermarket giant £1million and ordered the company to pay £18,263.62 costs, plus a statutory victim services surcharge of £190.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “Safety is our highest priority and we were deeply concerned about this incident. We launched an immediate investigation and urgent steps were taken to prevent this from ever happening again.
“We are also in close contact with Mrs Crampton and continue to support her recovery in any way we can.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.