Corporate manslaughter case gives stark reminder | 11 May 09
THE first prosecution under new laws on corporate manslaughter is a stark reminder for companies to keep health and safety at the forefront of their minds, according to law firm Ward Hadaway.
Peter Eaton, a director of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, has been charged with gross negligence manslaughter and with an offence contrary to Section 37, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, following the death of an employee.
The company has also been charged with corporate manslaughter in connection with the incident, which occurred in September 2008.
Alexander Wright, who was employed by Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings as a junior geologist, was taking soil samples from inside a pit near Stroud, Gloucestershire, which had been excavated as part of a site survey when the sides of the pit collapsed, crushing the 27-year-old.
Mr Eaton will face charges in his own right while the company will be prosecuted under the new law of Corporate Manslaughter at Stroud Magistrates’ Court on 17 June. If convicted, Mr Eaton could be jailed for life.
James Thompson, partner in the health and safety team at Ward Hadaway, said: “The 2007 Corporate Manslaughter Act was brought in to make it easier to prosecute companies following the deaths of employees.
“It makes companies responsible for these fatalities, allowing them to be prosecuted more easily than under the previous legislation.
“This particular case is likely to be the first of several prosecutions under the 2007 Act and the outcome will be keenly scrutinised by observers for pointers on how the law will be interpreted by the courts.
“It is also a timely reminder to companies and directors to ensure their business is properly managing health and safety and is adhering to all the relevant legislation and guidelines.”
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care to the person who died.
Talking about the Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings case, Kate Leonard of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Special Crime Division explained: “A substantial part of the breach must have been in the way activities were organised by senior management.
“I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for this offence.”
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