£385,000 FINE IN FIRST CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER PROSECUTIONThursday 3rd March 2011
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the “Act”) came into force in April 2008 but it has taken nearly three years for the first prosecution to come to trial and this has resulted in a very substantial fine being imposed on the Defendant.
On 15 February 2011, a jury at Winchester Crown Court found Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Limited guilty of corporate manslaughter in the first conviction secured under the Act. Two days later, in sentencing, the Court fined Cotswold £385,000.
The case was brought against Cotswold following the death of one of its employees, Alexander Wright, in 2008. Mr Wright was undertaking an investigation into ground conditions at the bottom of a 3.8m trench on a building site. Apparently the walls of the trench were not supported and, unfortunately, one wall collapsed burying and thereby suffocating Mr Wright. The prosecution successfully claimed that Cotswold's systems were substantially defective in that they had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect their employee from an unsafe system of work. The Court heard that it was well recognised within the building industry that persons should not enter excavations which were deeper than 1.2m unless the excavations were properly supportive.
The prosecution was based on Section 1 of the Act and, in finding Cotswold guilty, the jury were satisfied that:-
1. Cotswold's conduct caused Mr Wright's death and amounted to a gross breach of their duty of care to him, and
2. a substantial reason for this was the way in which Cotswold's management managed or organised its activities.
Sentencing guidelines indicate that fines should start at £500,000 for corporate manslaughter and it is only the fact that Cotswold was such a small company that prevented the fine being higher. As an aside, an additional prosecution for manslaughter was brought against the sole director, Peter Eaton, but the judge declared that he was too ill to stand trial and so only Cotswold have been prosecuted to date.