Suspended prison sentence for catering equipment director

The owner of a West Midlands supplier of catering equipment has been given a suspended prison sentence and 240 hours of unpaid community work after carrying out “illegal and dangerous” gas work at two fish bars in East Anglia.

Richard Stowe, 44, sole director of Black Country Ranges Ltd, exposed staff, visitors and customers to the risk of explosion and injury, after leaving gas appliances in an ‘immediately’ dangerous condition.

Stowe was prosecuted by The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for serious breaches of the gas safety regulations after his sub-standard work was uncovered at Nino’s fish bar in Marham, Norfolk, and Duke’s fish bar in Chelmsford, Essex in 2011.

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Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court heard this week that in one of the cases, Stowe took parts of the gas range away to prevent its use until bills were settled and even installed a device to disconnect the frying range remotely from his mobile phone.

HSE’s investigation found the ranges were fitted by Mr Stowe in May and August 2011 despite him not being registered as competent and qualified with Gas Safe. After problems with the installations in both Nino’s and Duke’s, the work was inspected by Gas Safe registered engineers.

Both ranges were found to present an immediate risk to the users and customers of the two fish bars and had to be disconnected, one before it was even put into commercial use.

The appliances themselves were not compliant with European standards or BSI approved.

Much of the work at the two fish bars had to be completely redone, incurring significant additional costs for the owners.

Stowe, as director of Shropshire-based Black Country Ranges, was given a five month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to carry out 240 hours of community work after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 and one breach of the Health and Safety At Work etc Act 1974.

He was also ordered to pay a £1,000 contribution towards costs.

HSE Inspector John Claxton said: “Richard Stowe had been warned by HSE and had signed a letter in June 2010 certifying that he would no longer undertake gas fitting work until he was properly registered. So he knew perfectly well he was breaking the law by fitting these gas ranges without that Gas Safe registration.

“He blatantly disregarded the earlier warning for similar illegal gas work and went ahead installing gas frying ranges at the two fish bars, putting the safety of the owners, their staff and their customers in danger. With both ranges found to present imminent risk, it is only a matter of luck that no one was seriously injured or worse. His motive was clearly financial gain.

Claxton said the case highlighted the dangers of using unregistered gas installers and said that it should serve as a “reminder” to catering business owners to check that gas engineers are legally competent to carry out the fitting work at their premises.

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