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First corporate manslaughter conviction
23 January 2013
The Gloucestershire-based company, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, has been convicted of corporate manslaughter in the first trial to test the new Corporate Manslaughter Act and to successfully convict a company without the need to also prosecute the company director, Mr Eaton...
The company was sentenced on Thursday 17 February, and has been fined Ã‚£385,000 payable over 10 years.
In his sentencing remarks Mr Justice Field who heard the case, commented that he was aware a fine of this size was likely to put the company into liquidation but that the fine he imposed must be fit for the level of gravity of the offence and send a clear message to the industry.
Sally Roff, head of the Safety, Health & Environment Group at national law firm Beachcroft LLP, commented:
"In the aftermath of the first successful conviction for corporate manslaughter under the 2007 Act, it is appropriate to take stock and consider whether or not this first conviction has achieved what the Act set out to do.
"The objective behind the Act was to bring the label of shame of "corporate manslaughter" to organisations responsible for causing the death of individuals as a result of their activities. Prior to the Act's introduction, it had not been possible in the vast majority of cases to obtain convictions against corporate entities, because of the requirement first to identify the "directing mind" of the business and then to prove that that individual's gross negligence had caused a death before being able to convict the company of an offence.
"Tuesday saw the successful conviction of Cotswold Geotech without a trial of the company's director (indeed, without his involvement in trial at all) and, to that extent, it is likely that the Crown Prosecution Service will see this as evidence that the Act has achieved what was intended. However, as the Act's primary objective was to provide the opportunity for convictions to be obtained against the very large organisations responsible for deaths, following circumstances such as the public disasters of the '80s and '90s at Kings Cross and Alpha Piper, it remains to be seen whether the Act will be successful in securing convictions against organisations where the management structure and reporting lines are more complex."
The corporate manslaughter charge arose after one of the company's employees, Mr Alexander Wright, a junior geologist, was asphyxiated - he had been collecting soil samples from a three metre excavated pit when the sides of the pit collapsed onto Mr Wright. The jury at Winchester Crown Court returned a guilty verdict, confirming that the way in which the company's activities were organised had grossly breached its duty of care to Mr Wright, causing his death. At the trial, the Court heard that the "1.2 metre rule" which required trenches of that depth or greater to be supported had not been followed despite an earlier HSE reminder to Mr Eaton, the company's director, in 1995 about this rule and his reassurance that such advice would be followed in the future.