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Oil firm guilty over Buncefield

Oil giant Total UK has admitted three charges relating to the explosions that destroyed the Buncefield oil depot in Hertfordshire four years ago. At the Old Bailey yesterday the firm pleaded guilty to two health and safety offences and one of polluting water.

Four other companies, Hertfordshire Oil Storage Ltd, British Pipeline Agency Ltd, TAV Engineering Ltd and Motherwell Control Systems 2003 Ltd, denied charges of breaking health and safety laws and will be tried next year in a hearing expected to be held at St Albans Crown Court. Total UK will be sentenced after verdicts have been returned on the other companies.

A series of explosions ripped through the oil depot near Hemel Hempstead, on December 11, 2005, after 300 tonnes of petrol poured from a tank on the site. The largest blast was measured at 2.4 on the Richter scale, could be heard 125 miles away and is thought to have been the biggest explosion in peacetime Europe. It left 43 people injured, while 2,000 residents were forced to leave their homes. Properties up to three miles away suffered severe structural damage.