Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 21:48 UK

Oil firm climbs down over claims

The Buncefield depot on fire
More than 40 people were injured in the Buncefield depot blast

Victims of the Buncefield oil depot fire in Hertfordshire in December 2005 came closer to winning compensation after a climb down by an energy firm.

French-owned Total UK had originally disputed any liability to claimants beyond a 451m radius circle, centred on the Hemel Hempstead depot's pumps.

The company said at the High Court it would no longer maintain this position.

Legally-recoverable losses should now be paid irrespective of distance from the Buncefield site.

Total, the world's fourth largest energy group, said in a statement: "The company hopes these developments will reduce both the costs and time involved for all parties in this complex civil litigation case."

The hearing in London, which was originally expected to last three months, will now focus on who should pay the property damage bills of individual and business claimants outside the site's perimeter fence - the vast majority of whom were insured.

'Violent and devastating'

Total argues that Chevron, its joint venture partner, should share responsibility for the incident.

Total is a 60% shareholder of Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited, while Chevron, which denies liability and says Total was in day-to-day control at the site, has 40%.

"Total strongly maintains that legal responsibility for the incident rests with Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, the joint venture company that operated the site.

"Total proposes that the focal point of the current litigation should be to ensure that Chevron, its joint venture partner, properly faces up to its responsibilities as contained within the joint venture agreements so that both parties properly discharge their legal obligations to the claimants."

Jonathan Gaisman QC, who is representing the outside the fence claimants told Mr Justice Steel that the explosion - widely thought to be the largest ever in peacetime Europe - was "violent and devastating".

It was the result of a pillage of 300 tonnes of petrol from the top of one of the storage tanks at the depot, which formed a huge vapour cloud and ignited, causing "catastrophic and widespread" damage and injuring 43 people.

He said that his clients' unsatisfied insurance claims totalled 370m.

Oil depot victims in legal fight
01 Oct 08 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
BP to move back into Buncefield
14 Sep 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Oil depot fire 'cost firms 70m'
15 Jun 06 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific