Landmark corporate manslaughter case against a NHS trust collapses

In our previous bulletin we noted the commencement of a landmark corporate manslaughter prosecution against Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, following the tragic death of a mother, Frances Cappuccini, who gave birth by emergency Cesarean section. The locum anaesthetist, Dr Cornish, was also prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter. A specialty doctor, Dr Azeez, had returned to his native Pakistan before any charges could be brought against him.

The Inner London Crown Court heard the CPS allege that Dr Cornish failed to allow sufficient air to reach Mrs Cappuccini’s lungs during her recovery from the operation. If this amounted to gross negligent manslaughter the prosecution argued that the Trust employed someone it knew or should have known was not suitably qualified or trained.

However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Coulson, directed the jury to acquit both Defendants at just over two weeks into the trial after ordering that they had no case to answer. Mr Justice Coulson expressed his sympathy with Mrs Cappuccini’s family, but in forceful terms explained a series of flaws in the prosecution case. He referred to evidence showing that some of Dr Cornish’s actions had been “about as far from a gross negligence manslaughter case as it is possible  to be”. He also called some of the arguments against the Trust “perverse”.

The CPS has confirmed that it does not intend to appeal against the decision, but is still deciding whether to continue proceedings against Dr Azeez.

This case was also noteworthy after it emerged that Mr Justice Coulson had ordered the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to delete a tweet, which he posted on the second day of the trial, stating that this was a “tragic case from which huge lessons must be learned”. Such comments,  it  was said, could amount to contempt of court. A temporary ban was placed upon the tweet with Mr Justice Coulson stating “The trouble is there are no lawyers left in the House of Commons. There are no professional lawyers.”

Whilst there has been an increase in the number of corporate manslaughter cases brought to trial, this case is a reminder of the difficulty faced by prosecutors in securing a conviction against a large organisation and establishing sufficiently grave failings at senior management level.

Care home fined £300,000 and owner jailed over the death of an 86-year old woman

In the first corporate manslaughter case under the new sentencing guidelines (see below), Yousaf Khan, 47, of Nottingham, admitted manslaughter and was sentenced to three years and two months. His company, Sherwood Rise Ltd, was fined £300,000 for corporate manslaughter.

In 2012, Ivy Atkin, who was staying at Autumn Grange, died after she was found dehydrated and malnourished.

The case revealed serious neglect at Autumn Grange, which was eventually alerted to the police by a member of staff. The local council subsequently ended its contract with the company and the residents were moved out before Ivy Atkin died several days later.

The company was no longer operating at the time of sentencing, so with significantly reduced turnover was likely classed as a micro organisation (annual turnover of up to £2million) for the purposes of the new sentencing guidelines (see below). Given the seriousness of the neglect and failings this case would have fallen within Offence Category A, which has a range of £270,000 to £800,000 in respect of any fine for micro organisations convicted of corporate manslaughter.