Hugo Boss faces large fine after boy crushed to death by mirror


Designer brand Hugo Boss is facing a hefty fine for health and safety breaches relating to the death of a four-year-old boy who was crushed to death by an 18-stone mirror.

Austen Harrison was at the Hugo Boss pop-up store in Bicester Village, Oxfordshire, with his parents Simon and Irina Harrison at about 8.15pm on June 4 2013.

He suffered extensive head injuries after a 7ft high unsecured mirror - described as balancing upright like a "domino piece" - in the changing room area came down on top of him.

Oxford Crown Court heard Austen, from Crawley, West Sussex, was left with irreversible brain damage and pronounced dead at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital four days later.

An inquest jury returned a narrative verdict, stating the mirror should have been fixed to a reinforced wall, while coroner Darren Salter described the incident as "an accident waiting to happen".

Hugo Boss later admitted offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The company appeared before Judge Peter Ross at Oxford Crown Court in Thursday for a sentencing hearing, which is expected to conclude this afternoon.

Prosecuting, Barry Berlin said the company had experienced "systemic failures" in their implementation of health and safety checks at the store.

Mr Berlin said Mr Harrison had gone into the changing area - where there was a three-way mirror weighing 18.45 stone - to try on a suit.

"Unknown to the Harrison family at that time and it seems unrecognised by anyone at Huge Boss that mirror had not been fixed to the wall but had negligently been left free standing without any fixings," Mr Berlin said.

"While Simon Harrison was trying on the suit, Austen was moving the wings of the mirror."

Mr Berlin said Mr Harrison also moved the wings of the mirror and assumed it was securely fixed to the wall.

"I can't think of any reason why such a large mirror would not have been fixed to the wall," Mr Harrison later said. "It would have been like trying to balance a domino piece."

Instructions for the mirror state that it should be fixed to a reinforced wall and properly affixed to it. However, it was standing against a stud wall.

Mr Berlin said contractors had "hurried" to convert the pop-up shop from a Burberry store that had been in the space previously.

The mirror arrived at the store in September 2012 and was placed by the tuxedos, before being move to the changing area, the court heard.

"The company say that the position is thereafter this mirror, which had arrived in September 2012, was in place by January 2013 and it was a danger to everyone who came near it," Mr Berlin said.

The court heard monthly health and safety checks were introduced in Hugo Boss stores by 2000 but these did not take place in the Bicester store.

Steps have now been taken to enforce health and safety checks, with a specific review for mirrors in the company's stores.

Representing Hugo Boss, Jonathan Laidlaw QC said the company had admitted a series of failings from the day of the incident.

"The consequence of this failing is as awful as one could reasonably imagine," Mr Laidlaw said.

"Since the day of the accident Hugo Boss has done all it can, first to acknowledge those failings, to express genuine, heartfelt remorse and also demonstrate a determination to put things right and ensure there cannot be a repeat of what went wrong."

He said the company had met on numerous occasions with Austen's family and settled a civil claim concerning the death.

Mr Laidlaw said corporate manslaughter charges had not been brought against the company, which can result in fines running into millions of pounds.

He acknowledged that fines for health and safety breaches are not limited, with a recommended starting point of £100,000.

Judge Peter Ross will sentence the company at 2.30pm at Oxford Crown Court today.