The family of Dean Thomas who was tragically killed at work on 3 May 2003 has been awarded £335,000 compensation at the High Court in London.

The claim was brought against Mr Thomas’s employer by his widow Nicola and his two children, Richard and Hannah. The claim was supported throughout by Mr Thomas’s trade union, UNITE.

Dean, from Lydney in Gloucestershire, worked for J R Crompton Limited from 4 May 1984. The company manufactured perforated paper for use in products such as tea bags.

Crushed whilst working inside machine

J R Crompton was successfully prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive in 2006 after Mr Thomas was crushed by a hydraulic lowering device whilst working inside the enclosure of a paper slitter-rewinder machine when a workmate pressed the wrong button. Dean’s suffering was mercifully short despite his traumatic death.

An allegation that Mr Thomas in some way contributed to the accident by his own “negligence" was dismissed by Mr Justice Griffiths-Williams who heard the case at the High Court. He found that Mr Thomas would not have appreciated that his workmate was about to start the machine whilst he was inside the enclosure and concluded that the accident was the consequence of a misunderstanding and a very tragic mistake on the part of the deceased's workmate.

Nicola Thomas commented: "There is no way of bringing back my husband and the father of our two children but I am delighted that the court ruled that Dean was not in any way responsible for his death. To lose a loved one is difficult enough, without having to deal with allegations that he was to blame. With the backing of UNITE we were determined to fight on until Dean was cleared of being at fault, once that had happened we could move forward as a family with some peace of mind and we were happy to settle the compensation claim."

We all have the right to work and not be injured or killed

Laurence Faircloth, UNITE regional secretary, comments: "This compensation will offer some support to Dean’s family who have suffered the tragic and unnecessary loss of their loved one but lessons must be learned. Employers need to take heed that UNITE will do all it can to ensure that our members are provided with a safe working environment. UNITE will be working hard to ensure this type of accident never happens again."

David Lewis of UNITE who gave evidence at the trial, said: “This case has been a grotesque dance by Zurich insurance to reduce the amount of compensation that this innocent family should receive. We all have a right to go to work and not be injured or killed and the union is pleased to have been able to stand by this family to see justice done in one of the most tragic situations that anyone can face.”

Samantha Brown of Thompsons Solicitors who represented the Thomas family said: “The death of Mr Thomas was a tragic accident which could have been avoided. This family has, understandably, suffered deeply as a result of their loss, a suffering made worse by the company’s allegations that Dean contributed to his own death and which ultimately led to the case proceeding to a trial. We are pleased that this fight was successful and to have helped the family obtain the compensation that they rightly deserve.”