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First UK prosecution highlights importance of Chemical Weapons Convention


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Released 26 Sep 2008

Two chemical company directors, Colin Stott and Simon Knowles, were sentenced on 24 September following convictions for failing to notify the Government that their company produced more than one tonne of a chemical controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). They were fined a total of 6750 and ordered to pay 8000 towards the prosecution's costs.

Colin Stott and Simon Knowles were directors of Organic Intermediates Limited which went into liquidation in August 2004. The sentence imposed by the Liverpool Magistrates Court relates to a failure to make the necessary notification during 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Business Minister Malcolm Wicks said:

"This is the first prosecution under the UK's Chemical Weapons Act and demonstrates just how seriously the UK takes its responsibilities under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"The UK has a very good record and around 400 firms routinely comply with the requirements, but this sentence should convey to other companies, and to liquidators of companies that are wound up, the importance of meeting the requirements of the Act and the Convention. Legal requirements relating to controlled chemicals must be fully met - and where organisations fail to do so, prosecution is likely.

"The UK is practicing what it preaches - that all member states of the Convention should implement and enforce their domestic legislation."

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform provides extensive guidance and advice to organisations about what they have to do in order to meet the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Act and the CWC. The UK has a very good record of meeting its obligations under the CWC and that is testimony to the approximately 400 organisations which are successfully meeting their legal requirements.


1. The chemical which triggered the need for a notification from Organic Intermediates Limited is N, N-dimethylaminoethyl-2-chloride hydrochloride (DMC), a precursor listed under Schedule 2B to the CWC. It has a number of uses in the pharmaceutical industry. A common and well-known use is in the production of antihistamines.

2. The CWC is the first multilateral treaty to provide for a verifiable ban on an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties. States Parties, in turn, must take the steps necessary to enforce that prohibition in respect of persons (natural or legal) within their jurisdiction. The UK enacted the Chemical Weapons Act 1996 to meet this requirement. BERR is responsible for implementation of the Act and the CWC in the UK.

3. The CWC lists, under three "Schedules", various toxic and other chemicals which can be used to make chemical weapons. Many of these chemicals are also produced by chemical companies for legitimate purposes such as manufacturing fire retardants and are also used in research, for example, in developing cancer treatments. To ensure States Parties use toxic chemicals only for peaceful purposes, each is required to report biannually about certain activities involving these chemicals, such as production or export, to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which oversees the worldwide implementation of the CWC. The OPCW then undertakes inspections of facilities in State Parties which have reported activities involving such chemicals above certain thresholds.

4. The Chemical Weapons Act sets out specific obligations, which organisations undertaking peaceful activities with the chemicals listed under the CWC must meet. These obligations are further specified under associated Regulations. This legal case involved a breach of section 23 of the Act under which the Chemical Weapons (Notification) Regulations were made in 1996 and amended in 2004. The Regulations require the Secretary of State to be notified, by specific dates, by a person who has operated, or intends to operate, "a plant site in which a plant has produced, processed or consumed during any of the previous three calendar years any toxic chemical or precursor listed in Schedule 2" of the CWC above certain quantity thresholds and concentration percentages if the Schedule 2 chemical is mixed with other chemicals.

5. The Regulations impose requirements on persons or companies to provide the relevant notification to the Secretary of State. In this case, it was not possible to proceed against the company Organic Intermediates Ltd because it was in liquidation. S31 of the Chemical Weapons Act 1996 provides that where an offence is committed by a company and can be proved to be attributable to the neglect of the director, the director will be guilty of the offence. There was evidence in this case that the failure to provide notification was attributable to the neglect of both directors, and so both directors were charged.

6. Mr Knowles was convicted on 15 August. He was fined, on 24 September , a total of 4000 in relation to the three offences for which he was found guilty after a fully contested trial. He was ordered to pay 6000 towards the prosecution's costs. Mr Stott was fined 2750 and ordered to pay 2000 towards costs. Mr Stott was given credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity.

7. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform helps UK business succeed in an increasingly competitive world. It promotes business growth and a strong enterprise economy, leads the better regulation agenda and champions free and fair markets. It is the shareholder in a number of Government-owned assets and it works to secure, clean and competitively priced energy supplies

About the Author

Crown Copyright. Material taken from the BERR- Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform replacing DTI - Department for Trade and Industry. Reproduced under the terms and conditions of the Click-Use Licence.

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-09-26 12:48:46 in Business Articles

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