There have been three trials which involved a charge of Corporate Manslaughter since our last bulletin. Two resulted in acquittals in respect of the CM charge, with one conviction.
The case of PS and JE Ward involved an employee, Grzegorz Krystian Pieton, who was electrocuted on 15 July 2010 when the hydraulic trailer that he was driving came into contact with an overhead power line. At the outset of the investigation, the company was issued with three prohibition notices centring around the need to train employees in the use of the vehicles over a certain height and working near or under power cables. In addition, the company was served with an improvement notice after the brakes were found to be defective. The company was charged with Corporate Manslaughter and breach of s.2 (1) HSWA, (for failing to ensure the health and safety of their employees). In contrast to many of the other Corporate Manslaughter cases, no individual charges were brought against any of the management of the company, despite a gross failure by senior management being a key ingredient for the offence. After a
12 day trial at Norwich Crown Court, the jury acquitted the company of the charge of Corporate Manslaughter but convicted on the s.2(1) HSWA charge. The company was fined £50,000 with costs of £47,932.
The second acquittal concerned MNS Mining. On 15 September 2011, four miners in Gleison Colliery were killed after the mine they were working in suddenly became engulfed with 650,000 gallons of water after they used explosives to break into it. The company was charged with four counts of Corporate Manslaughter, and the manager of the mine, Malcolm Fyfield, with four counts of Gross Negligence Manslaughter. Mr Fyfield maintained that he had inspected the mine the day before the incident had occurred. In contrast, the Prosecution argued that one of the miners who was killed in the incident had raised the issue of the possibility of underground water after a previous controlled explosion. Evidence at trial included that of a geologist who stated that it was probable that the water collected in-between Mr Fyfield’s inspection and the incident the following day. After a three month trial at Swansea Crown Court, both the company and the individual were found not guilty of the charges laid against them.
In the third case, which concerned a stone masonry company in Bath, Cavendish Masonry, the jury convicted the company of the offence of Corporate Manslaughter. The prosecution followed an incident in February 2010 when a stone mason, David Evans, was killed after being struck by a two stone limestone block which fell off a lintel. The fall had been prompted by
a manager’s instruction to another employee to slacken the ropes securing the block. The company pleaded guilty to a breach of s.2(1) HSWA but this plea did not prompt the CPS to forgo the Corporate Manslaughter charge and after a trial at Oxford Crown Court the company was found guilty of that offence. Details of the sentence are awaited.
The acquittals of PS and JE Ward and MNS Mining from the charge of Corporate Manslaughter illustrate the difficulties that can exist for the prosecution in establishing a failing on behalf of senior management which was gross.
There are two further known cases of Corporate Manslaughter in the pipeline – Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited and Pyranha Mouldings Limited, both of which are listed to take place later this year. We will provide further updates in future bulletins.