Dr James Kew was running on a popular footpath in a cornfield in Saffron Walden, Essex on 24 July 2012 when he came into contact with the high voltage power cable. Sections of a porcelain insulator had disintegrated on a wooden pole which supported the cable, causing it to droop. The 11kV line was as low as 1.5 m from the ground in places, though it should have been suspended at 5.5 m.
National Grid had been made aware of the issue before the incident and passed the information on to UK Power Networks (UKPN) – which maintains the power distribution supplies to London, the South East and East of England. UKPN then sent out a technician. Twenty minutes before the technician arrived and less than half an hour after the incident was reported, Kew ran into the live conductor and died.
The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) investigation found the company failed to assess the dangers that the low-hanging cable posed to the public and did not de-energise it remotely to control the risk.
On 26 January, UKPN was fined £1m at Chelmsford Crown Court and ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £153,459 after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.
“The risks posed by high voltage conductors which descend below the safe statutory height are entirely foreseeable and network operators must have robust procedures in place that facilitate dynamic risk assessment and the immediate implementation of effective risk control measures to protect the public,” said HSE principal inspector Paul Carter.