In the United States, companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have accumulated a significant record of customer injuries and deaths, including serious cases of falling merchandise and other safety problems. Legislation requiring better protection of the consumer from “sky shelves” has been passed in California, and heard in Massachusetts. The following exerpts are from a report copyrighted by UK reporter Ian Gomeche. According to Gomeche, the Wal-Mart-owned supermarket chain ASDA, has been involved in a number of deadly customer accidents that were more serious than the public bargained for: “At about 2 p.m. on Sunday, 12th May this year, Kenneth Farr died very suddenly and very violently when he was almost decapitated in front of his four-year-old daughter while leaving the ASDA, Grangetown store in Cardiff after he had taken her shopping there. A heavy steel barrier swung into his car’s path, crashed through the windscreen and hit him in the head. The police believe that the barrier had probably been blown by a sudden gust of wind. Although the ‘Daily Mirror’, in common with other newspapers, described this as a ‘freak’ accident, this was no freak but was yet another in a series of almost identical accidents involving similar unsecured barriers being blown by the wind in car parks across Britain.As Cardiff police prepare a report for the coroner, Dr. Lawrence Addicott, and Cardiff Council environmental health officers decide whether to prosecute ASDA for offences which could, according to the police, include corporate manslaughter, the ASDA corporate spin machine is desperately trying to cover up the fact that a similar accident took place at their store in Bloxwich, Walsall three years ago. Ken Bennett from Cardiff Coroner’s office said: ‘There is a major investigation taking place into Mr. Farr’s death so we don’t expect a date for the inquest to be set before about November this year’.ASDA were fined 9,000 pounds plus 9,000 pounds costs in November 2000 after a virtually identical barrier very nearly killed Doreen Brown and Kenneth Gardener in January 2001 when it, too, crashed through the windscreen of their Peugeot 106 when they were leaving the store’s car park. Walsall Council safety officials told us that Ms. Brown and Mr. Gardener (who have since married) were ‘incredibly lucky to still be alive, as, by a miracle, the barrier passed between them and out through the back window of their car’. Ms. Brown, who was driving at the time, sustained severe bruising to her side and shoulder. She said: ‘I thought we were going to die. Another few inches and the barrier would have taken our heads off. It was horrendous. We were leaving when the barrier started to move, then it came straight for us. I thought my end had come’. Mr. Gardener fainted after the accident. When passing sentence on ASDA at Walsall Magistrates?? Court, District Judge Michael James delivered a searing inditement of the company, saying: [that] ‘the penalty had to reflect the gravity of the offence as well as bringing home to others the importance of safety. I have to conclude that no steps were ever taken to ensure the safety of people on the premises’. The Judge continued: ‘It was clear that the company had done nothing to ensure the safety of the public in their car park and had completely failed to carry out the required risk assessment’. The assistant store manager, Peter Corbert, said: ‘I have nothing to say to you’.
According to Gomeche’s research, “the company has been prosecuted under safety legislation, principally the Heath and Safety at Work Act, 1974, no less than eight times in the last two years alone and has been found guilty in all cases. ASDA is not the only company involved in serious car park barrier accidents. A twelve year old boy, James Matthews, was killed when he was hit in the face by a swinging barrier while being driven by his mother from the car park of the new B & Q superstore on Boundary Road, Norwich in January 1999. The barrier pierced through their car’s windscreen, passed between James’s mother and his sister, Caroline, who was sitting behind her, and exited through the rear offside window. On Valentines Day, 14th February, 1999, while leaving the Splott Market in Cardiff where he managed a market stall, Mike Fowler’s Range-Rover was abruptly destroyed when an unsecured barrier swung suddenly into his path. The barrier struck Mr Fowler on the hand and chest before completely ripping the side off his vehicle.” No one from ASDA or at their head office of their parent company, Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas, USA was prepared to comment to Gomeche. For a complete report of Gomeche’s research, contact: Ian Gomeche at [email protected]