On 19th June 2014 MNS Mining was acquitted of four counts of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the Act) along with the manager of Gleison mine, Mr Malcolm Fyfield, who was acquitted of four counts of gross negligence manslaughter. The trial which lasted for three month followed the worst mining disaster to have occurred in Wales in three decades in which four men died after a pit flooded.
The incident occurred in September 2011 at Gleison mine in Swansea. At the time of the incident seven miners were using explosives on a narrow coal seam. After an initial explosion the tunnel in which the men were working started to fill with water. Three of the men managed to escape, one of whom sustained life threatening injuries, while the others remained trapped. The remaining four were found following a rescue operation the next day. The prosecution claimed Mr Fyfield had not carried out adequate inspections the day before the incident; however, evidence form an expert geologist Dr Alan Cobb confirmed that the water could have gathered following the explosion.
Since coming into force in 2008 relatively few prosecutions have been brought under the Act. However, even though this is only the second acquittal for corporate manslaughter since the Act came into force, it quickly follows the first which occurred in April this year involving a Norfolk based agricultural business, PS & JE Ward. There was also a further conviction under the Act in May 2014 (Cavendish Masonry Ltd). There have therefore been an unusually high number of corporate manslaughter cases over this three month period and it remains to be seen if this level activity is sustained going forward. One of the criticisms previously has been the reluctance of prosecutors to bring corporate manslaughter cases.
While this case and other recent cases indicate an increase in activity, this acquittal, along with that in the PS & PJ Ward case, reveal the challenges that these cases present to prosecutors.