Directors of Organic Intermediates, Colin Stott and Simon Knowles, were fined for failing to inform the UK government that their company had produced more than one tonne of N, N-dimethylaminoethyl-2-chloride hydrochloride (DMC).
The chemical has a number of applications in the pharmaceutical industry, including as a precursor in the production of antihistamines.
Business Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "This is the first prosecution under the UK's Chemical Weapons Act and demonstrates just how seriously the UK takes its responsibilities under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"The UK has a very good record and around 400 firms routinely comply with the requirements, but this sentence should convey to other companies, and to liquidators of companies that are wound up, the importance of meeting the requirements of the Act and the Convention. Legal requirements relating to controlled chemicals must be fully met - and where organisations fail to do so, prosecution is likely.”
Development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons is prohibited under the CWC, which is a multilateral treaty. The convention contains a list of substances that are controlled owing to their potential for use in the production of chemical weapons.
Other chemicals on the list that can be used in the synthesis pathways of pharmaceuticals include 2,2-Diphenyl-2-hydroxyacetic acid and Phosphorus oxychloride.
The Chemical Weapons Act 1996 was enacted by the UK government to bring it into line with the CWC. Under the act the Secretary of State must be notified if a company operates or intends to operate a plant that“has produced, processed or consumed during any of the previous three calendar years any toxic chemical or precursor listed in Schedule 2".
Failing to comply with this section of the act can lead to proceedings being brought against the company. However, Organic Intermediates went into liquidation in 2004 and could not be prosecuted.
The Act gives the power to prosecute individuals when the offence is attributable to neglect by the company’s directors, which was deemed to be the case at Organic Intermediates.
Knowles contested the trial and was found guilty of three offences. Sentencing took place at Liverpool Magistrates Court where he was fined £4000 and ordered to pay £6000 towards the prosecutions costs.
Stott received a smaller fine of £2750 and £2000 towards costs having pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.