Court rules on £100 million sweet factory blaze

Posted: 4th September 2012

Fire truckThe Court of Appeal has ruled that ‘woeful’ failings by confectionery giants Cadbury were the primary cause of a £100 million sweet factory blaze sparked by smouldering popcorn.

The fire tore through the Monkhill confectionery plant, in Pontefract, in June 2005, completely destroying the factory owned by Trebor Bassett Holdings Limited, part of which was used for making popcorn by The Cadbury UK Partnership (Cadbury).

The hazardous ‘oil pop’ manufacturing method involved heating corn in pans of soya oil over a naked gas flame and, in July 2011, Mr Justice Coulson ruled Cadbury 75% responsible for the damage.

He found that the company was negligent, ‘woefully at fault’ and ‘even reckless’ in its failure to segregate the oil pop production area from the rest of the building and in failing to install a sprinkler system.

The remaining 25% of responsibility for the plant's destruction lay with ADT Fire and Security Plc. (ADT) who had designed and installed a fire suppression system which failed to automatically discharge carbon dioxide into a hopper of smouldering popcorn as it should have done.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal have now dismissed Cadbury's appeal, rejecting arguments that ADT had failed so extensively in its contractual duties that it should bear full responsibility for the damage.

Although ADT had failed to use reasonable skill and care in the design of the fire suppression system, Lord Justice Tomlinson, sitting with Sir Andrew Morritt and Lord Justice Richards, ruled that Cadbury's right to damages had correctly been reduced by 75% under the terms of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945.

In a cross-appeal, ADT argued that it was 'inescapable' that the actions of Cadbury employees in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the fire were the 'proximate cause' of its spread and the factory's destruction.

However, rejecting arguments that ADT should be absolved of any responsibility for the damage, Lord Justice Tomlinson said that it had never been part of ADT's case that Cadbury employees 'had acted in a foolhardy or even negligent manner'.