TWO company directors from Cheshire have admitted their part in an industrial tragedy which led to two workers being baked alive in a huge oven.
The dead men suffered an agonising death when they became trapped in the machine at temperatures of 100 degrees Centigrade.
Instead of giving the oven 12 hours to cool down, they entered after just two hours and within minutes were heard relaying terrified messages over their walkie-talkies.
The company had decided against using the oven manufacturers' own repairmen because they would have cost too much and taken too long to carry out the work.
The men who died had only one chance of escape and that was to crawl through the red-hot insides of the oven but they died in the attempt.
Ian Erickson, 44, eventually managed to scramble out of the oven but he had already suffered appalling burns and skin damage and died in front of work colleagues.
His friend, 47-year-old David Mayes, died of multiple crush injuries and heat exposure. His body was later recovered by firemen.
Yesterday, a court heard how company bosses wanted the necessary repairs carried out quickly and cheaply.
John Bridson, managing director of Fresha Bakeries, admitted two charges under the Health and Safety Act.
His co-accused, Brian Jones, the firm's production director, admitted a single count of the same offence.
Leicester Crown Court was told how when the third defendant, chief engineer Dennis Masters, was asked after the tragedy if he had arranged the correct documentation for the work to take place, he had replied: '****, I forgot. I'll sort it out now.'
Harvestime Ltd, the trading arm of Fresha Bakeries, had wanted the repairs to the oven to be carried out 'in house' because the machine manufacturers had said it would take a team of four men 12 hours to do the job.
Anthony Barker QC, prosecuting, said the company would have lost £1,120 for each hour the oven was shut and said they prized productivity over safety.
He added: 'The work should have been carried out in temperatures of no more than 40 degrees Centigrade but the gauges would have read 100 degrees Centigrade.
'The men were provided with a thin suit, hat and gloves with protected knee and elbow padding but these were simply last-minute thoughts.
'These men went in when it was hot enough to boil water, in such circumstances where serious injury or death was inevitable.
Coleman Treacy, QC, defending, admitted: 'This was an avoidable accident. The company acknowledges it was at fault.
'It failed in its duty to both men and that has caused untold heartache to the families and for this we publicly apologise.'
Bridson, 53, of Hale, Cheshire, Jones, 59, of Hartford, Cheshire, and Masters, 44, of Mountsorrel, Leicestershire, along with the company, which is now part of the William Price Group, face the prospect of unlimited fines.
The case continues.