Safety Management in court for corporate manslaughter case

18 Feb


I was at Winchester Crown Court yesterday to hear the sentencing of Cotswold Geotechnic Holdings, the first company to be convicted of the new offence of corporate manslaughter. In 2008 27-year-old Alex Wright was killed when a trench collapsed on a development site in Stroud, Gloucestershire.

There was a sense of anticipation in the courtroom about hearing how the judge would set the level of the fine, as the case was the first of its kind. It became clear that it would be a difficult decision as Geotechnic was in a parlous financial situation and it was likely that any large fine would put the company, which employs four people, out of business.

However, the evidence showed that the company had ignored well-recognised industry guidance against working in unsupported pits more than 1.2 metres deep. The judge said that company director Peter Eaton “had thought that the rule was glib nonsense” and “that assumption was tragically and culpably misplaced”.

Summing up the case Mr Justice Field said: “Alex Wright was a young man of talent with a promising career”. He imposed a a fine of £385,000 to be paid over ten years, and said: “The impact of the fine on a company cannot be the determining factor as to the level. The fine must be fixed at a level which reflects the gravity of the offence, and sends out a clear message both generally and to those in the contraction and excavation businesses.

“The Sentencing Guidance Council says that generally fines for corporate manslaughter should be no less than £500,000, however there are individual circumstances and factors… It may well be that thus fine put the company into liquidation, which is unfortunate but inevitable.”

The judge did not order any payment of costs, which he would have done for companies operating at a larger size.

Outside the court, Alex’s Dad told me a bit about the son they lost: “He was just starting his life,” he said. “He’d just got to the end of his university career, had just got settled into one or two jobs doing what he wanted to do and the doors were starting to open for him. He’d reached the stage in his life when he was the most relaxed and happy and had found his partner Marlene, and it was looking very promising. Everything was just coming together for him and then this happened.”

Alex’s mother Shelley then read a statement:

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One Response to “Safety Management in court for corporate manslaughter case”

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  1. Tweets that mention Safety Management in court for corporate manslaughter case « News and views from the British Safety Council -- Topsy.com - February 18, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by safetylincs, BritishSafetyCouncil. BritishSafetyCouncil said: Blog: Safety Management in court for corporate manslaughter case: http://t.co/b5YokTF […]

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