On 5 February 2016, Sherwood Rise Limited, who owned the care home Autumn Grange in Nottingham, became the first care home company to be convicted for corporate manslaughter, under the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the Act).

Background

The conviction arose following the death of 86 year old Ivy Atkin on 22 November 2012, having been removed from Autumn Grange on 4 November 2012. She died from pneumonia, brought about by debility and low body mass index; weighing only 3 stone 12 pounds when she died.  There was evidence of serious failings in the provision of personal care, nutrition and support to Mrs Atkin and a post mortem found that neglect had directly contributed to her death.

Sentencing

The Act provides for the criminal liability of companies and organisations for serious failings in the management of health and safety which result in a fatality. New Sentencing Guidelines for corporate manslaughter came into force earlier this month and apply to all organisations sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence. The new guidelines allow for significantly greater fines to be imposed on convicted companies.

Sherwood Rise pleaded guilty to the charge of corporate manslaughter and was fined £300,000. Sherwood Rise had ceased trading by the date of sentencing and was considered a "micro company" (as defined in the new sentencing guidelines - as their turnover was not more than £2 million).The bracket of fines in this category is £300,000 - £450,000.   The fact that a guilty plea was entered at a very early stage would have mitigated against the fine being at the higher end of the bracket.

Prosecution of Individuals

In addition to the prosecution of Sherwood Rise, Director and Acting Manager of the company, Yousaf Khan was also prosecuted. He pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter and was sentenced on 5 February 2016 to three years and two months imprisonment. He was also disqualified from being a Director of a company for eight years.

Mr Mohamed Khan, an individual employed as manager of the care home was convicted for breach of Section 3 (general duties of employers and self-employed persons other than their employees) and Section 37 (offences by a body corporate) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for two years and was also disqualified from being a Director for five years.

Recent Criminal Prosecutions

While this case is the first conviction of a care home company under the Act, criminal prosecutions under the Health and Safety Act have also occurred recently. On 4 November 2015, Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust pleaded guilty to charges brought by the HSE in connection to the death of four elderly patients from 2005 – 2014. Four separate charges were brought in connection with alleged breaches under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Sentencing is awaited at Stafford Crown Court.

The Trust was previously fined £200,000 in 2014 following the death of a diabetic patient who died in 2007 due to the failure of nurses to provide routine insulin. Given that there are multiple deaths in the pending case and in light of the new sentencing guidelines, it is likely that the severity of the fine will send a strong message to those working in the health and social care sector.

Conclusion

In light of the conviction of Sherwood Rise, companies and organisations are again reminded of the potential liabilities under the Act and to consider their own risk management policies and procedures at all levels of staffing.  This is particularly important given that this case involved individual prosecutions that led to imprisonment.