'No amount of money will be enough': Explosion widow on £1m chemical fine

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. 

Claire Cranston whose husband Rob died following an explosion at Briar Chemical in Norwich. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

No amount of money will make up for the loss of a beloved husband who died in an explosion at a city chemical branch.

This is the view of Claire Cranston, after a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) saw Briar Chemicals fined £1m over the death of her husband Rob.

Mr Cranston died at the chemical plant in Norwich's Sweet Briar Road on July 27, 2018, as a result of an explosion thought to have been triggered by welding equipment he was using during his work.

After being taken to court by the HSE, Briar Chemicals was fined £1m after it pleaded guilty to a breach of regulation and was ordered to pay £10,967.20 in the costs of bringing the case to court.

Robert Cranston pictured with his wife, Claire. Mr Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich

Robert Cranston pictured with his wife, Claire. Mr Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich - Credit: Cranston family

But while Mrs Cranston welcomed the outcome, she said that no amount will ever make up for the loss of her husband.

Mrs Cranston, who would have been celebrating her wedding anniversary with her husband on the day of the hearing, said: "Our lives changed forever the day we lost Rob.

"At the end of the day, we wanted justice as he would still be here today were it not for the failings of Briar Chemicals.

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"No amount of money will ever be enough for Rob but this is at least one step towards getting justice for him."

Mrs Cranston, added that the ordeal had been "horrendous" for the pair's two sons, Lewis and Owen, particularly 22-year-old Owen, who was working alongside his father on the day of the explosion.

Rob Cranston, second from left, with wife Claire and sons Owen and Lewis. Picture: Family submit/Go

Rob Cranston, second from left, with wife Claire and sons Owen and Lewis. Picture: Family submit/Go Fund Me - Credit: Family submit/Go Fund Me

She added: "I think he would be very proud of me and the boys for the way we have coped the last three years and for our fight to get him justice.

"I've not been very well because of all the stress involved in this, but none of us will rest until we feel he has received justice."

In a statement issued following the hearing, a spokesman for Briar Chemicals said: "Robert Cranston was a valued and respected member of the wider Briar Chemicals team; his loss had a profound effect on our company and our staff that knew and worked with him.

"The company has made significant changes and improvements within the systems at Briar Chemicals since the accident took place and the company deeply regrets that a husband, father, son and friend did not return home.

"Briar accepts responsibility and after significant co-operation with the HSE during its investigation this has culminated in a guilty plea to the offence and the sentence imposed.

"What happened on that tragic day will not be forgotten and neither will the lessons we have learned from it."

Briar Chemicals on Sweetbriar Road in Norwich, formerly Bayer Crop Science. Photo: Bill Smith

Briar Chemicals on Sweetbriar Road in Norwich, formerly Bayer Crop Science. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

In a victim impact read out to Chelmsford Magistrates Court, Mrs Cranston told the court how more than 750 people had attended his funeral at Norwich Cathedral and that her husband would have turned 50 this year.

In it she added: "We will never forget him and are only left wondering what the future would have held for us all together.

"We are still young enough to have had years of happiness ahead. He will miss seeing our sons' lives develop and grandchildren in years to come."

The court heard how the HSE investigation found that a quantity of Toulene residue had been left inside the mixing vessel Mr Cranston had been repairing during a planned period of shutdown maintenance.

Two damaged valves were also found to be leaking and that the flammable liquid which leaked into the vessel triggered the explosion.

Frances Bailey, HSE's lead inspector for the case, said: "This was a complex and highly technical investigation, due to the chemical hazards on site and the number of underlying issues which combined to cause the explosion.

"Any company handling or storing flammables should consider the potential risk of fire and explosion and ensure they have robust procedures in place to minimise and control risk at all times, including during planned maintenance work."

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