Hugo Boss could be fined more than £200,000 after admitting to health and safety breaches that resulted in a four-year-old boy being crushed to death by a falling mirror.
Austen Harrison, from Crawley, had been playing at the label’s store at the Bicester Village outlet while his father Simon tried on a suit when the large mirror came crashing down on him, causing serious injuries.
He suffered irreparable brain damage and his life support machine was turned off four days after tragic accident in 2013.
The clothing giant admitted two health and safety breaches at a hearing at Banbury Magistrates’ Court yesterday (Tuesday June 2) for failing to secure the 18-stone mirror.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, defending, entered a guilty plea for the company to offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
However, Barry Berlin, prosecuting on behalf of Cherwell District Council, told the court that the label should be sentenced at the crown court because the maximum fine at magistrates’ court was only £20,000.
He suggested the case should be sentenced in the crown court where the recommended starting point of a £100,000 fine per offence could be imposed or even exceeded.
“Plainly this 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,” he added.
“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, that this is a case that should be dealt with in the crown court.”
District Judge David Chinery said it was an “exceptionally sad” case and adjourned sentencing to Oxford Crown Court on a provisional date on June 19.
“This is quite plainly an exceptionally sad case and one where I consider that the penalties available in this court are clearly not appropriate to a case of this magnitude,” he added.
An inquest into Austen’s death heard that the mirror had been moved to the changing room several months before the tragedy, but had not been fixed to the wall.
Recording a narrative verdict the inquest jury said the mirror should have been fixed to the wall and reinforced.
The jury foreman said: “Austen died at approximately 5.45am on June 8, 2013, at the John Radcliffe Hospital.
“His death was a result of an incident with a mirror which fell on him at the Hugo Boss store in Bicester Village on June 4.
“The mirror came to fall on Austen after he moved the wings, causing the unfixed mirror to become unstable. The jury believes the mirror should have been fixed to the wall and the wall should have been reinforced and we do not believe it was.
“We are not able to say who moved it to the fitting room. We believe a risk assessment should have been completed post-work to ensure the mirror was secured to the wall.
“We believe there were health and safety systems in place but we are not confident they would have avoided any challenges posed by the mirror.
“In any case, these systems seem to not have been followed.”
Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter said he would write to the Chief Executive of the Hugo Boss organisation about the inquest findings.
“Lessons have been learned and issues have been addressed - we have heard that in July last year a health and safety manager was appointed,” he added.
“A number of steps have been taken since the incident, including visits and inspections by the health and safety manager and a mirror installation review process has been set up.
“I need to highlight the concerns in this case. As far as the store manager is concerned, he received basic induction level training and no management training in relation to health and safety.
“The area manager has no health and safety training prior to the incident and no training in management of health and safety. Neither appeared to know of the existence of monthly health and safety checklists which the store manager should have completed.
“Systems were in place but they weren’t followed. In general, the evidence indicates a lack of understanding about the roles and responsibilities and that seems to be acknowledged by Hugo Boss.
“Further training in management of health and safety and roles and responsibilities, audits by the health and safety manager at each store - I think it is important that these are done by a health and safety professional separate from the retail team.
“If a professional had carried out an inspection before, it is likely this mirror would have been reported unsafe.
“It is surprising to me that the mirror stood in that position for at least six months with staff and customers regularly moving the mirror’s wings.
“Sadly this incident was an accident waiting to happen and it is all the more tragic that it was young Austen who with his parents is completely blameless and were not expecting such a heavy mirror to be freestanding and unsupported in any way.”