The companies responsible for the explosion and fire at the Buncefield oil deport in Hertfordshire in December 2005 have been sentenced at St Albans Crown Court.The fire, which was the largest in peacetime Europe, injured 43 people and caused up to an estimated £1bn to homes and businesses.

With costs included, French energy company Total was fined £6.2m for failing to protect workers and the public while Hertfordshire Oil Storage Limited (HOSL) was fined £2.4m.

British Pipeline Agency Ltd was fined £780,000 and TAV Engineering Ltd and Motherwell Control Systems have been fined a combined £15,000.

Neal Stone, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the British Safety Council, commenting on the sentencing said; “The fine of £3.6 million plus costs of £2.6 million for Total and the fine of £1.45 million plus costs of £1 million for HOSL reflect the gravity of the offences the companies committed and in particular their failings in meeting their duties under health and safety and environmental law.

The consequences of the Buncefield explosion in December 2005 could have been catastrophic – the fact that there were no deaths or major injuries was fortuitous. It has taken four and a half years to reach the outcome today, that is, the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

“The British Safety Council welcomes the improvements in management and control systems implemented across the UK onshore oil refinery, storage and distribution sector in the wake of the Buncefield disaster. But as Buncefield and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster show irresponsible cost cutting and false economies can and do have tragic consequences for people and the environment. We look forward to hearing from Total and HOSL about the improvements they have made to prevent another Buncefield.”

Last month, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, a company controlled by Total and Chevron, was found guilty of failing to prevent a major accident and limit its effect. The company also pleaded guilty to causing pollution to enter controlled waters in the vicinity of Buncefield.

TAV Engineering Ltd was found guilty of failing to protect workers and members of the public. Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd was found guilty of the same charge.