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Devon Paper Mill fined after Worker Death

A Devon-based paper mill has been fined after one of its employees became trapped in unguarded machinery and died as a result.

John Stoddart, 42, worked at the Higher Kings Mill in Cullompton and suffered a fatal accident there on the 24th September 2011. He was trying to smooth out a felt strip on a conveyor belt when he was dragged into the machinery and crushed to death.

Exeter Crown Court heard that Mr Stoddart, who was Operations Manager at Higher Kings Mill, was attempting to find out what was causing creases in the industrial paper produced. The issue had occurred before and workers had previously resorted to climbing onto a work platform to inspect a large felt belt used to squeeze water from pulp. It was assumed that the belt was causing the creases.

Lack of Guard Rail

However, the belt was not fitted with any sort of guard. Although nobody witnessed exactly what happened next, it is likely that Mr Stoddart was dragged onto the belt, which then ripped, throwing him into the machinery below. It is here that he suffered fatal crush injuries, being pronounced dead at Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.

The Health and Safety Executive, which conducted an investigation into the incident, also found that there was no proper risk assessment in place for the process of identifying the cause of creases on the gantry.


The court found the owners of the mill, DS Smith Paper Ltd, guilty of breaching the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The firm was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay a further £34,761.67 in costs. Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Simon Jones said:

DS Smith’s failure to guard a dangerous piece of moving machinery tragically cost Mr Stoddart his life and has left his family without a husband, father and brother.

“Potentially dangerous machinery should always be guarded and turned-off when workers need access to repair faults.

“A proper risk assessment would have highlighted these dangers and established safe practices for staff instead of putting their lives at risk.”

If you have been affected by a serious accident at work, contact our expert team for advice today on 0800 888 6888, or email

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