Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 13:27 UK

Five firms charged over oil blast

The Buncefield depot on fire
The explosion was heard 125 miles from the Hemel Hempstead site

Five firms will be tried in a crown court over the Buncefield oil terminal explosion in Hertfordshire.

Total UK, Hertfordshire Oil Storage, British Pipeline Agency, TAV Engineering and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 all face charges.

The action follows an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency into the 2005 blast.

The companies' legal teams were told of the decision at West Hertfordshire Magistrates' Court on Friday.

The case is due to start at St Albans Crown Court on 15 June.

The explosion in December 2005 was the result of a spillage of about 300 tonnes of petrol from the top of a storage tank on the site in Hemel Hempstead.

Firewater chemicals

Measuring 2.4 on the Richter scale and heard 125 miles away, the blast is believed to have been the biggest in peacetime Europe.

Widespread damage was caused and 43 people were injured.

Total UK faces three charges, which are failing to ensure the safety of its employees, failing to ensure the safety of people it did not employ, and polluting groundwater with fuel and firewater chemicals.

Motherwell Control Systems 2003 is accused of failing to maintain and test a gauge and a high level switch, both installed to ensure the tank would not overflow.

Hertfordshire Oil Storage and British Pipeline Agency, both responsible for the storage of oil at the depot, are accused of not taking the necessary measures to prevent a major accident.

Both companies are also charged with polluting groundwater with fuel and firewater chemicals.

TAV Engineering is charged over an alleged failure in its design, manufacture and supply of the high level switch.

TAV was the only company to give an indication of its plea - not guilty - at the magistrates' hearing.

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