A pet centre has been fined £185,000 and its owner sentenced to 200-hours of unpaid work after a lorry driver was left tetraplegic in an incident where an 800kg pallet fell on him.

The lorry driver had delivered a pallet load of pet bedding to Dickies Pet Centre Limited in Oldmeadow Road in King's Lynn on June 25, 2018.

It was unloaded by a forklift truck driven by Richard Ellwood, the firm's managing director, which lifted the load with its lifting forks too closely together so they could not support the load properly.

The truck was then manoeuvred with the forks still raised, and the load, which weighed more than 800Kg, fell more than 2.5 metres onto the lorry driver.

The man sustained life-changing injuries as a result, with fractures to his neck vertebrae, which have rendered him tetraplegic, meaning he cannot move from the neck down.

He has permanent 24-hour care to assist him with everyday tasks, and with his breathing.

The Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk brought charges against Dickies Pet Centre and Mr Ellwood as health and safety enforcement authority following the incident under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Eastern Daily Press: West Norfolk council has deferred controversial plans for a Kings Lynn development after councillors were not given enough time to examine them. Picture: Ian BurtWest Norfolk council has deferred controversial plans for a Kings Lynn development after councillors were not given enough time to examine them. Picture: Ian Burt (Image: Newsquest)

On Thursday, May 27, Dickies Pet Centre Ltd and Richard Ellwood were sentenced by District Judge King at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court for offences.

Dickies Pet Centre had previously pleaded guilty to an offence of failing to fulfil its duty to ensure those it did not employ were not exposed to risk by the way it ran its business.

Mr Ellwood had previously pleaded guilty to an offence of being a director who consented to or connived in the company's offence, or to whose neglect that offending was attributable.

Following the incident, Mr Ellwood told his insurer’s independent safety investigator that the load had fallen because the pallet had broken.

Later he told a different story to the local authority when making a statement under caution.

In court, defence counsel Matthew Kerruish-Jones, accepted that the defendants had acted dishonestly during the investigation, and said that while Mr Ellwood did not set out to cause an accident or injury, it was accepted that his actions led to the injury to the lorry driver.

Judge King, sentencing the defendants for these offences, said that this was an incident which did not need to occur and that "tragic consequences" followed as a result of Mr Ellwood proceeding with the unloading without checking the spacing of the forks, that they were inserted into the correct aperture of that pallet, that the pallet was not lowered to ankle height, and that pedestrians were not warned and kept out of the way.

Judge King sentenced him to a 12 month community order with a 200 hour unpaid work requirement.

Dickies Pet Centre Limited’s was fined £115,000 and the company was also ordered to pay more than £70,000 costs of the investigation.

Vicki Hopps, West Norfolk Council's environmental health manager, said: “Deliveries of substantial goods between businesses involve a number of well-known safety risks, especially where forklift trucks are used to handle the goods.

"Those who operate businesses must ensure they assess the risks involved for their particular situation and put in place appropriate arrangements to reduce those risks to as low as reasonably practicable.

“This incident shows the potentially devastating consequences for anyone caught up in the mishandling of delivered goods, and as these proceedings show, failing to reach the minimum safety standards set by law may lead to serious consequences for the businesses responsible and for those individuals running those businesses.”

Stuart Dark, leader of WNC, said: "There is no success in the aftermath of a serious accident like this and its life-changing impact on the individual and their family.

Eastern Daily Press: Stuart DarkStuart Dark (Image: Norfolk Conservatives)

"What we hope is that others will learn from this incident and take their responsibilities around health and safety seriously.”

Dickies Pet Centre Ltd and Mr Ellwood have been contacted for comment but have not responded.