The Court of Appeal last week upheld a decision that Hampshire firefighters were responsible for a blaze that wrecked Digital?s office in Basingstoke six years ago.
Hampshire County Council will have to pay Digital #18 million as a result of the ruling. The council had earmarked #14 million to cover the costs in its 1997/98 annual budget ? the shortfall will mean that the residents of the county face cuts in services.
The 1991 fire in the building, where 800 Digital staff were employed, was initially kept under control by automatic sprinklers. But on arrival the chief fire officer ordered that the sprinkling system be switched off ? the fire then completely destroyed the offices.
Hampshire County Council was one of several parties which Digital?s insurers held responsible for the damage, but the builders and architects settled their disputes out of court. The council was not covered by public liability insurance.
In its appeal, the county council claimed that fire and other emergency services should be immune from liability while engaged in emergency functions. Council chief executive Peter Robertson said after the case that he was ?bitterly disappointed? with the outcome, which spelled disaster for firefighters across the UK.
?Mistakes may be made from time to time and this should be accepted for the general public good. Insurers take premiums to cover the risks. In this case the insurers have been fully indemnified for their risks by the people of Hampshire,? he said.
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