The owner of a Sheffield bed manufacturer, 37-year-old Craig Williams of Park View Road, Kimberworth, appeared at Leeds Crown Court today (Friday 26 October 2018) and was sentenced to three years and four months in prison. He was given 21 months for the fraud charge and 19 months for the breach of Section 3 of the Heath and Safety Work Act. Williams has also been disqualified from being a Director for ten years.
Earlier this week, Williams who was on trial following the death of a seven-month-old baby boy Oscar Abbey, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3 of the Health and Safety Work Act. He admitted that he failed to ensure that the bed he designed, manufactured and supplied to Oscar’s family was safe and as a consequence it caused Oscar’s death. He also pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation.
Appearing alongside him, 31-year old Joseph Bruce of Wingfield Road, Rotherham pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at an earlier hearing and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He was also disqualified from being a Director for ten years.
During a two week trial, a jury heard how Williams, owner of bespoke children’s bed manufacturer Playtime Beds Ltd, ignored safety guidelines and made and supplied dangerous beds which had been purchased by families for their children to sleep in. Overnight on Wednesday 2 November 2016, baby Oscar became entrapped in an opening of a cot gate fitted to the bed supplied by Williams, and as a consequence he died of positional asphyxiation, which occurs when a person’s position prevents them from breathing adequately.
The court was read a statement from Oscar’s father Charlie Abbey, explaining how he found his baby son cold and unresponsive at 6.30am on Thursday 3 November 2016, with his head stuck inside the gate of the cot and his body on the outside of the bed. Oscar had wriggled through a gap backwards, which had been cut into the cot gate, but his head, which was too large for the aperture, became stuck. Despite the efforts of his parents and emergency services, Oscar was pronounced dead on arrival at York Hospital.
Pre-sales misleading information
Evidence of a Facebook conversation between Oscar’s mother, Shannon Abbey and Williams was shown to the jury. In that conversation, Shannon specifically asked Williams about the safety of the bed and told him the age of the child who would be sleeping in it. Williams responded by telling Oscar’s mother that his beds were suitable for children of ‘any age’. The court heard that even though Williams was trained to NVQ 2 level in wood occupations, he paid no regard to mandatory safety standards around the size of the gaps between the bars of a cot front, and had actually just adapted template bed designs from an American internet site. That site included measurements between apertures which would of met British Safety Standards if followed. However, sadly this wasn’t the case.
The court also heard that in the months prior to Oscar’s death, other customers had raised safety concerns with Williams following incidents involving their own children. Williams stated that his beds exceeded safety standards, and informed one such customer that Trading Standards were happy with the products manufactured by him and if she continued to raise her concerns he would take her to court. He then continued to manufacture and supply beds to unsuspecting families, ignoring the dangers they posed to children.
Following Oscar’s death, police informed Williams of the incident and Sheffield Trading Standards issued Playtime Beds Ltd with a cease and desist warning, directing him to stop the manufacture and supply of his beds, due to serious safety concerns.
However, through the extensive investigation conducted by North Yorkshire Police, officers found that Williams wilfully ignored the instruction and instead, masterminded the setting up of another business called Magical Dream Beds Ltd, fronted by co-worker Joseph Bruce, with the specific intention to keep on supplying the deadly beds to other families, hidden under another company’s name.
The court heard that Bruce, directed by Williams, emailed Playtime Beds customers, stating the new company would fulfill all outstanding orders and that the beds complied with safety regulations. This was a lie and which was told solely in pursuit of profit, at the expense of children’s safety. The investigation team identified that Williams and Bruce had gone on to sell a bed to an unsuspecting customer in London just two and a half weeks after Oscars death. This bed, like the bed sold to the Abbey family, was examined by an expert, who concluded that neither bed complied with the relevant safety standards and posed a threat to children who slept in them.
Speaking about the investigation and the custodial sentence handed to Williams and Bruce, senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Nigel Costello said:
This has been a very difficult case to investigate, but I am pleased that justice has been delivered to Oscar’s parents and wider family today. They have been through a harrowing experience – the initial shock and devastation of the loss of their baby in 2016, a detailed police investigation and nearly two years on, having to relive each minute again during a court case. Our hearts go out to them and while we realise that this result can never take away the pain of losing Oscar, we hope that in some small way the sentences given today allows them to move on into happier times.
As the court heard over the past two weeks, the actions of Williams and Bruce were deplorable.
The death of Oscar was preventable. As the investigation developed and unfolded, we found that Williams and Bruce were solely motivated by money and were willing to sacrifice children’s safety in the pursuit of it.
Having been made aware of Oscar’s death and despite being directed by Trading Standards to stop trading, it is completely unbelievable that Williams and Bruce continued to sell these dangerous beds to other families and their actions shows them to be the selfish and callous individuals they are. It is only by good fortune that no other children have suffered serious injury. How they slept in their own beds at night, knowing they were risking the lives of those most vulnerable to line their own pockets, is beyond comprehension.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the investigating team at North Yorkshire Police and our partner agencies at Trading Standards and the Crown Prosecution Service, who worked tirelessly to bring about this result for Oscar and his family today. But most of all I wanted to pay tribute to the family of baby Oscar who have acted with the upmost dignity. They have shown a great deal of patience, resilience and pragmatism, not just during the trial but over the last two years.
The family received some unfounded, unwarranted and unjust comments on social media following the death of their son. All they have wanted from the outset was for Williams to take responsibility for his actions and this week, when he entered into his guilty plea, shows that he now accepts he was responsible for supplying a dangerous bed that unfortunately had catastrophic consequences. The family then needed to see that through the justice system a penalty would reflect both Williams and Bruce criminal behaviour.
I hope that the sentence passed today sends a warning to manufacturers, regardless of whether they conduct their business from a shop premises, via the internet or via social media – you are responsible for ensuring that your products are safe and that they conform to any relevant safety standards and guidelines. The safety of your goods is paramount and safety standards are there to be adhered to for a very good reason; to prevent this kind of tragedy happening to other families. You ignore them at your peril.
John Maher, principal trading standards officer at Sheffield City Council, said:
This case presents a clear warning to those whose hobby becomes a business for manufacturing products, that there can be catastrophic consequences of deliberately ignoring product safety requirements. There is always a need to ensure products are safe for consumers to use but particularly for babies and children.
“In this case, even after consumer complaints to the businesses about the safety of their cots and bunkbeds and a formal ‘Withdrawal Notice’ issued by Trading Standards to stop selling them after Oscar’s tragic death, both Bruce and Williams continued to fraudulently supply unsafe products to the public.
As the court has heard, both Williams and Bruce showed a callous disregard for children’s safety by not seeking advice and ignoring our statutory notices to stop selling their product. Their actions were more concerned with profits and avoiding any liability for £1000s in refunds. They have left parents across the UK with an unsafe cot/bunk bed they cannot use.
“Furthermore, neither business was prepared to take any action to prevent even more children from being at harmed after Oscar’s death by taking product recall actions regarding the unsafe products they had sold, claiming that they had no money. After Sheffield Trading Standards forced Mr Williams to publish a product safety warning notice, some consumers who contacted him advised us they were being told by the business that their cot/bunk bed was ‘not that bad’.
As a consequence of Mr Williams’ approach, Sheffield Trading Standards made a decision to take over what should have been his responsibility for dealing with unsafe product he had sold. This was a particularly difficult task for Officers due to the lack of any paperwork kept by the business to identify what they sold and to whom. Over 100 consumers required a specific assessment and decision as to whether or not their particular bespoke cot/bunk bed was safe.
This tragic disregard for the law has had appalling consequences.”
There are numerous organisations such as trade bodies and private consultants as well as Local Authority Trading Standards that can be a source of advice to businesses. There is a very wide range of consumer protection rules regarding the safety of products that apply to products, such as; cots, bunk beds, toys and even food that contain allergens. To assist businesses there are also various guides available free of charge on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website https://www.businesscompanion.info/ as well as the Government website https://www.gov.uk/.
This case highlights a potential gap in the UK safety provisions when businesses choose not to resolve the problem of recalling unsafe products they have sold. There is no requirement for manufacturers and importers of consumer products, to have an insurance or bond to deal with unsafe product recall options. This contrasts with the system of insurance or bonds that are required of travel companies, to get consumers home from holiday when the company ‘goes bust’.
If anyone has concerns about the safety of product they have bought contact Trading Standards let Trading standards know & at the same time get advice on Statutory rights by calling 03454 040506 and speaking to our partner agency Citizens Advice who will refer any safety matters through to us.