Amazon UK has been found guilty and fined £65,000 for breaking aviation safety laws after repeatedly trying to send dangerous goods by airmail.
A judge at Southwark crown court in London said on Friday that Amazon knew the rules, had been warned repeatedly, but had failed to take reasonable care. Although the risks from the goods sent for shipment by air were low, Judge Michael Grieve QC blamed the breaches on “systemic failure” at the online retailer.
As well as the fine, Amazon was ordered to pay £60,000 towards prosecution costs.
Earlier in the week, the jury found Amazon guilty of breaching rules for shipping dangerous goods by airmail on four counts between November 2013 and May 2015.
The prosecution was brought by the Civil Aviation Authority, after a complaint from Royal Mail. Some offences took place after Amazon knew it was under investigation.
In each case, the items – two packages containing laptop lithium batteries and two containing aerosols that used flammable gas propellant – had been flagged up by Amazon’s computer systems as possibly dangerous goods, and subject to restricted shipping rules.
In each case, however, further reviews of the items – carried out remotely by staff in China, Romania and India – led to the items being wrongly redesignated as non-dangerous.
Aerosols are stored separately at Amazon’s warehouse because they are deemed dangerous, and training literature for warehouse staff explains that lithium batteries are dangerous, “potentially causing burns, explosions or a fire”.
Royal Mail, which routinely scans goods bound for air delivery, stopped three of the Amazon packages from entering the airmail system. A fourth was stopped by UPS. Royal Mail wrote to Amazon repeatedly in 2013 raising concerns about the high number of dangerous goods it was sending via airmail.
In total, between November 2013 and May 2015, Royal Mail and other parcel carriers told Amazon of 782 packages containing potentially dangerous goods that should not be airmailed.
Earlier in the trial, Amazon’s defence counsel Stephen Spence said: “Seven hundred and eighty-two can be a big number and can be a small number.” The defence explained that Amazon dispatched 331,400,000 packages during the relevant period of the indictment. “We suggest it is a pretty cracking success rate.”
The CAA brought charges over 11 shipments. The jury failed to reach a verdict on six counts and acquitted Amazon on one count.
In a statement after the sentencing hearing, Amazon said: “The safety of the public, our customers, employees and partners is an absolute priority. We ship millions of products every week and are confident in the sophisticated technologies and processes we have developed to detect potential shipping hazards. We are constantly working to further improve and will continue to work with the CAA in this area.”