First company charged under new manslaughter law. The Times (UK).
A Gloucester-based company today became the first to face charges under a new law designed to impose tougher penalties for deaths in the workplace. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, an engineering consultancy, is accused of gross negligence in connection with the death of a geologist on a building site near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, in September last year. Alexander Wright, 27, was taking samples when a pit he was working in collapsed on him. Peter Eaton, a director of the company, is also accused of gross negligence manslaughter over the incident. If found guilty, he could face a life sentence. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings could face an unlimited fine. Both the company and Mr Eaton are also facing charges under health and safety rules. It is the first prosecution brought under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007, which came into force in April last year. The legislation was introduced after a public outcry over penalties imposed against companies for incidents such as the Paddington rail disaster in 1999, when 31 people were killed and 400 injured after two trains collided. Network Rail, the operator, was fined £4 million for breaches of health and safety regulations after a court heard of a "catalogue of failures to act" led to the disaster. Under the new corporate manslaughter law, a company can be held criminally liable if it failed to take reasonable care for a person's safety. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must demonstrate that the failure was substantially the fault of senior managers. Gary Slapper, Professor of Law at the Open University, said the prosecution was significant. "The new law makes it easier to prosecute companies for manslaughter than it was under the old judge-made common law," Professor Slapper said. "The prosecution no longer has to be able to pin all the balme on one individual director in order to get the company convicted." Over 300 people are killed at work in the UK every year, Professor Slapper said, yet under the old law only 36 companies were prosecuted for homicide following the first trial for corporate manslaughter in 1965. "The old law was very ineffective," he said. "It is important that society takes commercially-related deaths seriously and that the authorities are seen to be as tough on crime in the workplace as they are on crime on the streets." Mr Eaton will appear before Stroud Magistrates’ Court on June 17.