Since our last update, there have been two trials involving convictions for the charge of gross negligence manslaughter.

The first case involves haulier Paul Napier. Mr Napier had driven a lorry to Ipswich docks and was in the process of unloading a pontoon. As a result of what he described as a momentary lapse of concentration, he failed to lower the stabilising legs on the lorry which tipped causing the pontoon to fatally crush Neville Wightman who was helping with the process. A second worker, Stephen Burden, sustained serious injuries to his hips and pelvis as he had to jump from the lorry loader just prior to it tipping over.

Mr Napier had pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure the health and safety of others but defended the charge of gross negligence manslaughter. However, following the trial he was convicted of that offence. He was subsequently sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on 17 May, and was fined £50k for the health and safety offence.

The second gross negligence manslaughter case concerned an incident which occurred on 2 December 2008. Ken Joyce had been working from a cherry picker to dismantle a metal roof at Swan Hunter shipyard in Newcastle. He was working with two colleagues who were operating from a second cherry picker and a crane. During the removal of a beam brace which was connected to two plate girders, one of the girders struck Mr Joyce’s cherry picker which tipped causing Mr Joyce to fall to the ground resulting in fatal injuries.

During the Trial it was confirmed that Mr Joyce had been working for Allan Turnbull, who was trading as A & H Site Line Boring and Machining and it was alleged that Mr Joyce had failed to properly plan the works to ensure that a safe system of work was in place for the dismantling of the steel structure. This lack of planning led to the steel structure becoming unstable which, the HSE argued, was the main cause of the accident. Mr Turnbull had pleaded guilty to breaches of s2(1) and 3(1) HSWA but not guilty to the charge of gross negligence manslaughter. He was, however, convicted of this latter charge and was ultimately sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three years. A previous conviction following an incident in November 2005 when an employee sustained serious leg injuries following the dismantling of redundant plant was considered an aggravating feature, which undoubtedly had an impact on the penalty and length of sentence imposed.

This prosecution also involved charges against North Eastern Maritime Offshore Cluster Ltd who had hired Mr Turnbull for breach of s2(1) and 3(1) HSWA. The company had gone into liquidation by the time of trial and were unrepresented. As a result, whilst they were found guilty of the charges, a nominal fine of £1 per offence was imposed.

Finally, Christopher William Taylor was also convicted of causing the company to breach s2(1) and 3(1) HSWA in his role as director and was fined £15k for each offence together with prosecution costs of £50k.

The two cases demonstrate that the Police /HSE will not shy away from prosecuting individuals for gross negligence manslaughter, and even where pleas of guilty are entered for health and safety offences which are simultaneously pursued, this will not necessarily dissuade the prosecuting authorities from pursuing gross negligence manslaughter charges.