Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Oil giant guilty over Buncefield


The fire in December 2005 could be seen for miles around

Oil giant Total UK has pleaded guilty to charges relating to the explosion at the Buncefield oil depot in Hertfordshire in 2005.

At the Old Bailey, it pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety Act and one of causing pollution.

The blast in Hertfordshire in December 2005 caused widespread damage and left 43 people injured.

Four other companies who are being prosecuted, pleaded not guilty to similar charges.

Total UK, Hertfordshire Oil Storage, British Pipeline Agency, TAV Engineering and Motherwell Control systems 2003, are being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

Total admitted exposing staff and members of the public to risk, and to allowing water below the depot to become polluted following the blast.

Sentence delayed

It follows a series of explosions at the depot in Hemel Hempstead on 11 December 2005 - the largest in Europe since the end of World War II.

The depot was operated by Total, which owned it in a joint venture with Chevron, called Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd (HOSL).

The ignition of the vapour cloud which followed the spillage of 300 tons of petrol, resulted in an explosion which caused a tremor equivalent to a 2.4 magnitude earthquake.

Buildings on the surrounding industrial estate, and some homes up to three miles away, suffered severe structural damage.

Nearly 80 recommendations were made later by the Major Incident Investigation Board.

In March this year, the High Court decided that Total should pay the property damage bills of individual and business claimants, amounting to £750m - a decision due to be appealed against next year.

Total is not expected to be sentenced until trials are held for the other companies.

A trial date was provisionally fixed for 14 April 2010 at St Albans Crown Court.

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