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Council fined over fluid poisoning

A £50,000 fine has been issued to a county council following an incident where a man with Down’s syndrome accidentally drank dishwasher fluid and eventually died.

Colin Woods, 60, consumed the sodium hydroxide substance, which he believed was orange squash, while on an outing with the St Nicholas Centre in Lewes, East Sussex, on December 7, 2004.

The fluid slowly eroded his digestive organs, leaving him unable to eat, and resulting in him losing almost half his body weight.

Mr Woods died on April 7, 2006, 16 months after swallowing the substance.

East Sussex County Council was fined £50,000 by Judge Michael Lawson QC, and ordered to pay £27,670 in costs.

Lewes Crown Court heard that members were encouraged to make their own drinks up at the St Nicholas Centre to consume afterwards at the agricultural college. But inquiries afterwards found the offending bottle was of virtually indistinguishable appearance to the bottles of orange squash consumed at the centre.

Judge Lawson said it was a case of human failure rather than one committed to cut costs, adding that the council had failed to abide by the most basic health and safety requirements.

An HSE investigation found no hazardous substance controls were in place at the centre and no data sheet was maintained for the detergent.

The county council pleaded guilty at Brighton Magistrates’ Court in January to failing to store a hazardous substance in such a way as to prevent serious risk. The court heard that the relevant staff at the centre have been disciplined and revised risk assessments put in place since the incident.

In a statement, East Sussex County Council said: “We are very sorry about this tragic incident and the impact it has had on all those involved.

“We are responsible for the health and safety of the vulnerable people that use our services and we have taken all possible steps to deal with the issues that led to this incident.

“We accept today’s judgment and acknowledge that there was a very serious failure several years ago

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