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A workplace death in 2008 has led to the first conviction of a company under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
Alexander Wright, who was 27 at the time of his death, was investigating soil conditions in a pit when it collapsed, killing him. In the first successful prosecution under the Act, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was found guilty of corporate manslaughter over his death. The company was fined £385,000, which it has the option of paying over a 10-year period due to its present financial position. Charges against the company’s managing director were dropped in October last year owing to his ill-health.
The Act was passed to make it easier to prosecute companies over health and safety breaches resulting in fatalities. Previously, it was necessary to identify a ‘controlling mind’, usually a director of the company, in order to establish criminal liability. This proved especially difficult in the case of larger entities: the only successful prosecution under the previous legislation involved a one-man company. There were several noteworthy failed prosecutions – in particular regarding the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster and the Hatfield rail crash.
Says Jeremy Walker, “This case involved a small company where executive responsibility was easier to establish: indeed, the judge stated that the director who could not be prosecuted due to his ill-health ‘was in substance the company’. It remains to be seen how effective the Act will be in prosecutions of larger organisations.”
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