Family seek new inquest into McDonald's death

By Jane Cassidy

Big Issue; 30th December 1996

Press Index

Maureen and John Hopkins have just one New Year's resolution for 1997 - to secure a new inquest into the death of their son - electrocuted while at work in a McDonald's fast food store.

The Hopkins are fighting for a fresh investigation into 21year-old Mark's death over four years ago at a Manchester city centre branch of the burger chain. He was killed by an electric shock from a fat-filtering unit.

They say the inquest jury should have been made aware of a critical internal report by McDonald's UK safety officer Jill Barnes. Written after Mark's death it highlights a number of failures in safety procedures at the store, but was not revealed at the inquest.

A verdict of accidental death was returned in February 1993 after an inquest heard a workmate at the Arndale Centre branch where Mark was floor manager wrongly rewired a plug on the fat filtering machine.

The internal report emerged during the McLibel Trial - the longest-running civil case in British legal history - which ended earlier this month.

Two people are being sued for libel by McDonald's over allegations about workers' rights and environmental policy made in a leaflet the company claims was handed out by the duo. A judgement on the case is not expected until spring 1997.

The internal report, drafted in November 1992 by Mrs Barnes three weeks after Mark's death, says the primary cause of death was a wrongly wired plug, but concludes: In general terms (and there are exceptions) safety is not seena as important at store level.

"It couldn't happen to us / me is a common attitude amongst employees. Employees are told not to hamper with equipment, to report faults to a manager and that electricity can kill.

'Yet without supporting 'safety culture' where appropriate resources are allocated and employees can see theory supported by example, the safety message becomes diluted and confused."

A month after Mark's death Manchester City Council issued a prohibition order against the use of portable electrical appliances in the wash-up area of the store, saying the practice involved "a risk of serious personal injury" and controvened electricity at work regulations.

McDonald's subsequently stopped the use of machines without circuit breakers, renewed safety regulations and reviewed equipment and training.

Maureen Hopkins told The Big Issue: It seems at times an uphill struggle, but we won't give in until our son's death has been seriously investigated through a new inquest."

McDonald's said the companys sympathies and condolences were, and continued to be, with Mark's family, following his tragic and fatal accident.

But the company was unaware of any information contained in Jill Barnes' report which was not known to official investigators at the time and therefore couldn't agree that the report could be regarded as new evidence. "Nevertheless, we're naturally fully respect the right of Mark's family to pursue a call for a re-investigation and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with them should they wish to speak with us again at any time."

See also:

  • Mother of worker killed at McDonald's wants case reopened
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