The Health and Safety Executive has launched a legal battle for the costs of investigating the catastrophic fire at a chemical plant in Huddersfield.

The blaze at Grosvenor Chemicals almost three years ago was followed by a series of explosions, and more than 32 fire engines and 150 firefighters fought to contain the Linthwaite inferno in 2010.

Now HSE lawyers have filed a writ claiming costs for the huge investigation into the blaze.

The writ alleges that the HSE sent seven invoices to Grosvenor Chemicals for the cost of investigating the inferno, but the company has refused to pay.

Now the HSE is suing Grosvenor in London’s High Court for £390,977.58 with interest of £91.414.55 and continuing interest.

The HSE says it had to follow strict evidence handling procedures as it was considering a criminal prosecution over the fire, and that it was heavily dependent on expert assistance as most of the fire related documentary evidence and physical evidence was destroyed by the blaze.

A spokesman for the chemical firm’s lawyers, Metis Law, said: “We confirm that a defence to this claim has been served.

“Our client has always acknowledged that some charges are due as a consequence of the investigation but disputes that the sum of £390,000 was reasonably incurred when the cause of the fire was identified within 48 hours”

Statements included in the writ say witnesses saw a running pool of fire on the site, and the flames spread across various buildings on the site where dangerous and highly flammable chemicals were stored, and destroyed plant and equipment.

Fire at Grosvenor Chemicals at Linthwaite
Fire at Grosvenor Chemicals at Linthwaite
 

The blaze also led to serious danger to humans and the environment, and water used to put out the fire was contaminated by chemicals from the site, and ran off into the River Colne, causing environmental damage, according to a High Court writ.

Later investigations showed the blaze could have been caused by a tiny hole in a high pressure fuel line in a generator, it is alleged.

Chemicals used in the agrochemical, adhesives, pharmaceutical, household and industrial markets are made and packaged at the 2.4 hectare site in Linthwaite, on the River Colne floodplain.

During the blaze, the Health Protection Agency feared that one bulk storage tank contained Dimethyformamide might catch fire – with health risks to the local population - and this tank had to be cooled, the writ says. Other particular concerns were for carcinogenic substances and toxic diethyl sulphate.

The HSE argues that the fire was a category 1 major incident and led to an investigation to collect evidence, and find the cause of the conflagration.

Brief footage from CCTV cameras show the fire started in the boiler/generator/workshop building and spread towards the Tardis building, but the cameras quickly failed, and later the HSE preserved evidence by photographing, videoing and using laser surveys. A fingertip search of vast amounts of debris in the Tardis building was carried out and three generators were taken to an HSE lab for testing.

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