Central Roofing (South Wales)'s £21m fine after factory fire

A roofing contractor has been ordered to pay more than £21m damages after a fire tore through a factory leaving it a smoking ruin.

Bridgend-based Central Roofing (South Wales) Ltd had been working on the roof of Mueller Europe's copper tubing plant near Wolverhampton.

But when gas heaters were turned on they ignited a scaffolding deck that had been put up by the contractors.

A judge at London's High Court ruled Central liable for a total of £21.4m.

The company had been working on the roof as the factory continued to operate below a suspended scaffold.

The scaffold was boarded and sheeted with combustible materials and enclosed two heaters suspended from the roof that were used to heat the factory.

'Obvious fire hazard'

In the early hours of 9 November 2008, the heaters were turned on causing a fire which left the factory a ruin, with part of its roof collapsed and massive damage caused to its valuable contents.

Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said the "heaters were an obvious fire hazard" that should have been picked up.

He said that although Mueller should have made sure the enclosed heaters were switched off, Central bore the primary responsibility to carry out the work safely and to point out the obvious hazard.

There had been three previous incidents when heaters were switched on when they should not have been, said the judge, who added: "Central continued to take no steps to carry out the works safely when they knew that Muller was not routinely isolating and the failure to isolate had already caused 'near misses'."

Finding the roofing company liable to compensate Mueller for the damage to the factory, its contents, equipment and interruption of its business, the judge said Central's breaches of contract "were an effective or dominant cause of the fire".

He ruled the company liable to pay Mueller a total of £21,357,889.

Mueller's lawyers had argued that the scaffold deck was less than a metre away from the heaters and that a fire was "all but inevitable" if they were switched on.