NEWS
03/06/2015 13:47 BST | Updated 03/06/2016 06:12 BST

Boss 'Sent Staff Into Death Unit'

A fruit packing manager sent two employees to their deaths by asking them to "scuba dive" without breathing apparatus into an oxygen-deprived storage unit to collect apple samples he wanted to enter into a show, a court has heard.

Andrew Stocker, 57, of The Links, Whitehill, Bordon, Hampshire, is accused of the manslaughter of the two workers at the Blackmoor Estate in Liss, owned by Tory peer Lord Selborne, by ignoring health and safety regulation through encouraging his staff to use the "dangerous" procedure.

Scott Cain, 23, who was engaged to be married to the mother of his young child, and Ashley Clarke, 24, were both found unconscious on top of crates of apples in a storage facility on February 18 2013.

Efforts by staff and paramedics to revive them were unsuccessful and both were declared dead at the scene.

Mark Dennis QC, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court that Stocker -  on holiday in the Maldives at the time - had instructed Mr Cain to gather the sample fruit while he was away to be entered in the Marden Fruit Show, held twice a year in Kent.

He said that Stocker enjoyed the "kudos" of winning at the contest rather than claiming the "modest" financial prizes.

He explained that Stocker encouraged the practice nicknamed "scuba diving", which involved staff entering the storage units through a hatch in the roof and holding their breath while they ducked inside in the cramped conditions to retrieve samples.

Mr Dennis said that the air in the sealed units had oxygen levels reduced to 1% for the long-term preservation of the fruit and a person would die immediately after they ran out of breath while in the facility.

He said the term "scuba diving" was ironic as they were not given breathing apparatus to carry out the task.

He said: "On the day of the double fatality, the defendant had just arrived in the Maldives for the start of a holiday.

"However, three days earlier he had given instructions that an employee should gather samples for the forthcoming fruit show which had to be delivered to the show's organisers by the Wednesday and he instructed Scott Cain to take the lead on gathering the samples, leaving Scott to raise a companion to assist him.

"The defendant knew well that the forbidden form of entry would have to be employed in order to gather the samples."

Mr Dennis said that despite being aware of the risks, Stocker encouraged the practice and added: "In so acting he breached his duty of care to the two young men who died and his breach amounted to gross negligence and that directly led to the tragic loss of two lives."

Mr Dennis said the accepted practice in the industry for gathering samples was to use a net to hook out the fruit but this random selection was not suitable for getting apples of the right size for competitions.

He added: "Andrew Stocker was a keen participant in this competition and took pride in his entries. Financial prizes were very modest. However, it was the kudos of winning that was more important.

"The defendant knew that the only way the best samples could be gathered is for someone to enter from the top hatch and make a selection of fruit.

"He himself had carried out such a highly risky procedure for one reason or another."