A BUSINESS owner whose property was wrecked by the Stockline plastics factory explosion that killed nine people has lost a legal fight for up to £1.5 million in compensation following a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
The disaster, at the plant in Maryhill, Glasgow, in 2004, also left more than 30 people injured after petroleum gas ignited in a pipe that had corroded in the cellar of the factory building.
David T Morrison & Co, the owner of nearby Gael Home Interiors, sued factory operator ICL Plastics in 2009, seeking compensation for damage to its building and loss of earnings.
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However, despite ICL Plastics admitting fault for the disaster and being fined £400,000 for health and safety breaches in 2007 along with subsidiary ICL Tech Ltd, the owner of the neighbouring store will get nothing after it was ruled it launched its bid for damages too late.
Under the law, action must be taken within five years. In a lengthy legal battle that eventually went to the highest court in the land, the issue of when the "clock started ticking" on the five-year deadline was the key issue.
In the Supreme Court ruling, a majority of judges sided with ICL Plastics, saying the legal bid should have been launched within five years of the incident. The claim was made by Gael Home Interiors in August 2009 - three months after the deadline had expired. The plastics firm admitted it would have been liable had it been sued before May 11, 2009.
In a decision that went against the previously accepted interpretation of the law, the Gael Home Interiors' case that the five-year period should begin when the cause of the disaster and the extent of the damage was known, rather than simply when the incident occurred, was dismissed.
A representative of Gael Home Interiors, which is still based in Maryhill, said the firm had been "innocent bystanders" in the plastics factory tragedy and was now studying the ruling in detail. He added: "Obviously, we were looking to be recompensed. It would be very unfair if we could not be."
Three of the five Supreme Court Justices sided with the plastics firm while two others backed Gael Home Interiors in yesterday's judgement. Lord Hodge, who was one of the two in the minority, suggested in his judgement that 25-year-old Scottish Law Commission guidelines on the issue should be rewritten.
He said: "If the Commission's recommendations had been acted upon, Morrison [Gael Home Interiors] would have been able to pursue its present claim. In light of the decision in this case, which has changed the law as it was previously understood, I would urge that those recommendations should be given fresh consideration."
Gael Home Interiors has no right of appeal over the decision, with a source at the Supreme Court saying it was "the end of the line".
ICL Plastics had won an original court case, in 2012, on the basis Gael Home Interiors launched its case too late. However, it lost a subsequent case in 2013, leading to it being decided by the Supreme Court.
The Stockline Plastics Factory explosion has been seen as one of the worst industrial accidents of the modern era. A public inquiry into the tragedy was launched and in 2009 it found the incident had been an "avoidable disaster". A pipe carrying liquid petroleum gas into the factory was "out of sight and out of mind", said senior judge Lord Gill.
As well as ICL Plastics and ICL Tech, the Health and Safety Executive came under fire for not doing more to prevent the incident or producing a coherent action plan to deal with underground metallic pipework in its aftermath.
It is understood the case was brought to the Supreme Court by ICL Plastics' insurers, Allianz Insurance, with the current directors of the firm having no knowledge of the case in its name. ICL Plastics and Allianz Insurance declined to comment.