Town Hall asbestos: a closer look at LBWF’s defence strategy

The outcome of LBWF’s appearance at Southwark Crown Court on Friday last has been well reported in the Waltham Forest Guardian, see especially here:

However, there is one detail which certainly deserves greater attention than it has so far attracted.

The case against LBWF was initially heard at Westminster Magistrates Court in January 2015. On this occasion LBWF pleaded guilty on all four counts, and advanced the mitigation that: (a) it was very sorry; (b) it had spent a large amount of money putting things right; and (c) it did not merit a substantial fine, because the only people then penalised would be the poor council tax payers.

Whether the judge was sympathetic to such reasoning is difficult to tell, but what we do know, of course, is that he viewed the offences as constituting serious breaches of the legislation, and that is why he referred them on to a crown court for sentencing.

Spool forward to Southwark. On this occasion, the respective sides proceeded much as before. After all, what else was there to add? The Health and Safety Executive had established the facts, and the potential grounds for mitigation by definition were restricted.

However, the interesting thing is that at Southwark LBWF was represented by Richard Matthews, a QC who (by his own lights) is ‘ranked as the best health and safety Silk by the independent guides to legal profession, Chambers and Partners, (“He’s a lightning-sharp barrister who knows the law inside out.”) and the Legal 500 (‘Without peer in health and safety enforcement, and a dream to work with.’) and… is widely regarded as the foremost regulatory and corporate defence Queen’s Counsel in England and Wales’ (see

Engaging someone so eminent must have cost a substantial amount of money. But maybe it was worth it. Perhaps Mr. Matthews breathed new life into the case for mitigation. Perhaps he impressed the judge with his ‘lightening-sharp’ wit. Perhaps overall he saved LBWF (and the council tax payer) a tidy sum – even net of his fee.

But perhaps no one worried much about cost-benefit analysis, and LBWF’s motivation was political. Perhaps it anticipated further criticism, and wanted to be ready to fend it off. Perhaps it aimed to impress the public. Perhaps it wanted to send a message to other potential litigants (especially regulators), to underline in effect, that anyone who in future envisages taking on LBWF better have deep pockets.

Who knows?

But no doubt the truth will eventually emerge.