The trial at Preston Crown Court heard that Baldwins’ maintenance regime had widespread failings, revealing “a complete disregard for the safety of their employees”.
Lindsay Easton, aged 49, died on 15th August 2011 when the brakes failed on the 500-tonne capacity mobile crane that he was driving. Mr Easton, from West Yorkshire, was driving the crane on a road from Scout Moor quarry in Edenfield, near Ramsbottom.
The vehicle, travelling on a steep access road, lost control and crashed into an earth bank. The front of the vehicle was crushed, with Mr Easton dying from multiple injuries.
Following the incident an investigation was launched by Lancashire Police, working alongside the Health & Safety Executive.
It was found several of the wheel brakes were inoperable, worn and contaminated. The engine retarding (braking) systems were also found to be either non-functional, disabled and damaged providing only limited braking force.
As part of the investigation, brakes were inspected across the Baldwins fleet with several other cranes found to have significant issues which required immediate work. Significant failings were also found within the company structure. There was a lack of supervision and recording taking place of organised maintenance work by senior management.
The trial also heard the crane was not Mr Easton’s usual vehicle, having replaced another operator when he took over the site operation.
Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd was found guilty of corporate manslaughter, failing to ensure the safety of its employees and failing to ensure the safety of other persons at Preston Crown Court on Monday 30th November 2015. It will be sentenced on December 22.
In a statement, Mr Easton’s family said: “We hope that this case has highlighted the need for regular and supervised maintenance of heavy cranes and that lessons can be learned by those in the crane industry. This is so that nobody else loses a loved one in the tragic and avoidable circumstances in which we did.”
Det Insp Jim Elston of Lancashire Police added: “This tragedy was entirely avoidable had the company acted responsibly and ensured their crane fleet was effectively serviced and maintained.
“It has been shown from all the evidence that the state of the brakes on the crane were in a shocking condition and sadly it was an accident waiting to happen. In a tragic irony the crane in question was not even Mr Easton’s usual crane.
“The company have shown a complete disregard for the safety of their employees and other road users in failing to prioritise the servicing of the braking systems on their vehicles. It is clear from the evidence that this was systemic and not confined to the one crane involved in this accident.
“I can only conclude the company and its chairman Richard Baldwin overlooked necessary inspections and the expenditure needed on repairs and parts in the pursuit of making profit for the company.
“Tragically the gross failings of the company management have led to the death of an experienced crane driver doing his job and caused enduring heartache for his family. I hope these verdicts bring some closure for the family after such a long wait for justice to be done.”
Baldwins Crane Hire is one of the largest mobile crane hire companies in the UK.
In a previous incarnation, Baldwins Industrial Services was listed on the London Stock Exchange with £50m annual turnover and 270 cranes but it fell into administration in 2002. Rival firm Ainscough acquired most of the mobile crane assets, including chairman Richard Baldwin’s prized bust of Winston Churchill. Laing O’Rourke’s Select Plant bought Baldwin’s tower crane division, Delta, which had more than 100 cranes.
Richard Baldwin and his son Wayne started over again, however, and today have a fleet of more than 70 mobile cranes up to 1,000 tonnes capacity. On its website the company states: “As a company we are dedicated to the continuous improvement of health and safety, not only within our business. We aim to lead the way in lifting industry safety nationally. Striving to eradicate or reduce the severity and frequency of accidents within the industry.”