Corporate Manslaughter Convictions A Wake-Up For Businesses

Corporate Manslaughter - Wake-Up for Businesses

The first conviction for corporate manslaughter will spur commercial fleet managers to reappraise their health and safety measures. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was sentenced on Thursday 17th February 2011.

A change in approach to Road Traffic Collision investigations?

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which includes a duty of care to drivers out on the road. Historically, despite the road network being the biggest workplace in the UK, driving activities have not been given as much focus in terms of health and safety enforcement as work activities that take place at an organisation’s premises. The historic lack of enforcement of health and safety legislation following road traffic collision (RTC) has allowed some organisations to become lax in the health and safety systems they have in place for their drivers.

We are yet to see a corporate manslaughter prosecution brought against an organisation following an RTC.

In May 2012, Sergeant Gareth Morgan, Supervisor of South Wales Police Driver Training, warned fleet operators that police forces across the UK are waiting to prosecute an organisation for corporate manslaughter. While we are still waiting for that first prosecution some 2½ years later, the first corporate manslaughter prosecution in the wake of a fatal RTC might be just around the corner.

David Faithful Comments...

David Faithful, Driving for Better Business legal adviser, comments, “Despite years of warnings, many companies are still woefully under-protected when it comes to managing driver risk. As this case (Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings) demonstrates, failure to do everything possible to keep employees safe can lead to appalling publicity and a massive fine.

The prosecution of the company director Peter Easton was not passed at trial on medical grounds, so the question of whether a director will face a prison sentence for health and safety breaches is still untested.

There is no doubt that this case is a landmark decision, it acts as a salutary warning to small businesses with work related driving activities, do something now in work related driving risk, taking the first steps towards managing risk will considerably improve the organisations prospects of avoiding a prosecution.

Every organisation with employees who drive for work needs to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment and do whatever they can to reduce risk. Otherwise the next conviction we read about may well be for the unlawful death of a business driver.”

Corporate Manslaughter Cases

A number of cases have now been heard in the Courts with some, although not all, leading to successful Corporate Manslaughter convictions. Cases include:

Mobile Sweepers (Reading) Ltd, fined £8,000 plus costs of £191,000
March 2014

Mobile Sweepers (Reading) Ltd was charged with the offence, along with its sole director, Mervyn Owens, who faces a charge of gross-negligence manslaughter, in relation to the death of employee, Malcolm Hinton in March 2012.

Mr Hinton was working underneath a road-sweeping truck at Mobile Sweepers' premises, near Basingstoke when he died from crush injuries. He had inadvertently removed a hydraulic hose, which caused the back of the truck to fall on him.

Mobile Sweepers (Reading) Ltd (MSRL) was fined just £8,000 for the offence, the lowest fine under the corporate manslaughter legislation to date, however its director Mervyn Owens was ordered to pay £191,000 and banned from holding the position of a director for 5 years.

MSRL is the sixth company to be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act since it entered the statute books in 2007.

Princes Sporting Club Ltd, fined entire company assets
November 2013

A Middlesex watersports club has been charged with corporate manslaughter in relation an incident in which a young girl was hit and killed by a speedboat in 2010.

Prince's Sporting Club Ltd appeared before Westminster magistrates yesterday, where it was also charged with a breach of section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. One of its directors, Glen Walker, was charged with a breach of section 37 of the same Act.

The charges relate to the death of 11-year-old Mari-Simon Cronje during a birthday celebration at the Bedfont, Middlesex club on 11 September 2010. She died after falling from a banana boat ride and being hit by the boat that had been towing it. The driver of the boat was not aware that Mari-Simon had fallen into the water and did not see her as he continued on a tight circular route.

Princes Sporting Club Limited became the fifth UK company to be successfully prosecuted for Corporate Manslaughter. Following a guilty plea a fine of £134,579.69, equal to the entire assets of the company, was imposed at Southwark Crown Court

MNS Mining Ltd
January 2013

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is prosecuting both the manager and the company who operated the Gleision Colliery, the scene of a tragic accident in which four miners lost their lives.

The incident occurred in September 2011. Charles Breslin, Philip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell were all killed when the mine in which they were working was flooded by 500,000 gallons of water.

The incident was investigated by South Wales Police, who were supported by the Health and Safety Executive. The investigation aimed to identify the underlying causes of the failures. On completion, the investigation teams referred the incident to the CPS. The CPS recently concluded that prosecution is in the public interest and there is a realistic prospect of conviction.

It was alleged that the mine manager, Malcolm Fyfield, caused the deaths of the four miners by mining into old, previously flooded mine workings, contrary to safety regulations. As such he has been charged with four counts of gross negligence manslaughter. This is the first occasion on which a non-director's actions have been the basis for a corporate manslaughter charge, and may lead to judicial consideration of what amounts to "senior management" under the Act.

On 19 June 2014 MNS Mining was found not guilty of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, following a three month trial at Swansea Crown Court. The mine manager, Malcolm Fyfield, employed by MNS was found not guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. The company was on trial for four offences of corporate manslaughter and the mine manager with four offences of manslaughter.

PS & JE Ward Ltd
November 2012

PS & JE Ward, who run a flower nursery Belmont in Norfolk, have been charged with corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of an employee in 2010.

The accident occurred at their Belmont Nursery in King's Lynn. Grezegorz Pieton died on 15th July 2010 when a metal hydraulic-trailer lifter he was towing touched an overhead power line, electrocuting him as a result. PS & JE Ward is a small company with fewer than 50 employees.

In April 2014 PS & JE Ward Ltd were found not guilty of corporate manslaughter however face a fine and costs of almost £100,000 for failing to ensure the safety of the worker.

Despite being cleared of corporate manslaughter, Judge Stephen Holt said that the court case had established the responsibility of the company for its employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and, whilst the deceased may have acted on his own initiative by driving into the area with the overhead cables, this did not diminish the company’s responsibility.

Lion Steel Limited convicted of corporate manslaughter, fined £480k
20th July 2012

Lion Steel maintenance worker Steven Berry died from his injuries after an accident on 28 May 2008 when he fell through a fibreglass roof light 13 metres to the factory floor at Hyde in Cheshire, while carrying out a roof repair.

Lion Steel Equipment Limited became only the third company in the UK to be convicted of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, since it came into force in 2008, and was fined £480,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £84,000.

JMW Farms convicted of corporate manslaughter, fined £187,500 plus £13,000 costs
May 2012

Northern Ireland company JMW Farms Limited became the second company to be convicted of Corporate Manslaughter in Great Britain and the Safety Health and Practitioner report they have received the largest ever health and safety fine in Northern Ireland.

On 15th November 2010, a JMW Farms employee, Robert Wilson, was tragically killed when he was struck by a metal bin which fell from the raised forks of a forklift truck and suffered fatal crush injuries. The joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland found that it was not possible to insert the lifting forks into the sleeves of the bin, as the forks were too large and incorrectly spaced causing the bin to fall.

JMW Farms pleaded guilty to the offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 ("the Act") and was fined £187,500 and ordered to pay £13,000 in costs. The total sum must be paid within six months.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, is the first prosecution under the Act and is charged with the unlawful killing of a young geologist by gross negligence.
26 February 2010

Mr. Peter Eaton, Director of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, This was the first prosecution under the Act and is charged with the unlawful killing of a young geologist by gross negligence. Mr Peter Eaton, first appeared at Stroud magistrates court in June 2009 to face manslaughter charges both on behalf of the company and as an individual.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd on 17 February 2011 were found guilty and fined £385,000 following a two week trial. The judge, in handing down the sentence, confirmed Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd could pay the fine over 10-year period, paying a £38,500 every year of that period. The company does not have to pay any costs.

In consideration of the fine of £385,000; in 2008 Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings employed eight people and had a turnover of £333,000.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings appealed against the Judge’s decision however this was turned down in May 2011 with the Judge in the Court of Appeal upholding the original fine.