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First corporate manslaughter conviction appealed

BY Thomas Elliott
Health & Safety
BG Orange

We have reported about the first trial brought under the Corporate Manslaughter legislation in previous editions of LAWmail.

In relation to the death of Alexander Wright, a Junior Geologist, in September 2008, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd faced the first charge under this legislation.  The company has been found guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court and has been fined £385,000. The company has been permitted to pay the fine over a 10-year period, with £38,500 due every year.

Wright had been working alone in a 3.5m deep trench after the Managing Director, Peter Eaton, left for the day.  Shortly afterwards the trench collapsed and buried Mr. Wright.  One plot owner called the emergency services following Wright’s cries for help and another ran to the collapsed trench and found him buried up to his head.  He removed some of the soil to allow Mr Wright to breathe, but more soil fell into the trench covering Wright completely and he subsequently died of asphyxiation.

A two week trial concluded last month that the company was guilty in that their systems of work in digging trenches were “wholly and unnecessarily dangerous.”  Industry guidance which prohibits entry to any excavation more than 1.2m deep was ignored by the company and they required junior employees to enter excavations generally from 2 to 3.5m.

The jury heard evidence that the company’s approach to health and safety was “cavalier” and the way its junior employees were trained and supervised was inherently dangerous.

It is unlikely that this case will be classed as a landmark case in terms of testing Corporate Manslaughter law as one of the key aims of the law was to make it easier to prosecute large organisations where it had been difficult to do in the past.  Having said that, however, the prosecution will undoubtedly be classed as a success by both the Health & Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The company has applied for permission to appeal against its conviction.

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