Following the conviction and sentencing of Cotswold Geotechnical earlier this year, the company made an application for leave to appeal against both the conviction, as a result of director Mr Eaton’s inability to give live evidence at trial due to poor health, and the severity of the fine. The Court of Appeal rejected both limbs of the application. They were satisfied that the trial judge had properly directed himself and the jury in accounting for Mr Eaton’s absence in court and the advantages and disadvantages to both the prosecution and the defence as a result. The Court of Appeal also rejected the argument that the fine, which has subsequently put Cotswold Geotechnical into voluntary creditors liquidation, was unduly severe. The Court of Appeal stated “The reality of this case, is that the judge took the view, rightly, that in the circumstances as they appeared before him, and indeed as they appear before us now, the fact that the company would be put into liquidation would be unfortunate, but in our judgment, as in his, this was unavoidable and inevitable.” Both the conviction and fine therefore stand.
There has since been a second charge of corporate manslaughter laid against Lion Steel Equipment following the death of Steven Berry who fell through a fragile roof at their site in Hyde. The company also faces a charge of breach of section 2(1) HSWA for failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers, with three of the directors – Kevin Pallister, Richard Williams and Graham Coupe - individually charged both with gross negligence manslaughter and with causing breach of section 2(1) by reason of their consent, connivance or neglect under section 37 HSWA. The trial is listed to take place in June 2012.
Another company director has also been charged with gross negligence manslaughter after a wall collapsed onto a public footpath and fatally injured a three year old girl in July 2008. George Collier, director of Parcol Developments, had designed the wall, part of which collapsed in the incident. The subsequent investigation found both the design and construction of the wall had been below standard. The company has also been charged with an offence under section 3(1) HSWA for failing to ensure the health and safety of members of the public. In this instance, the CPS decided that, whilst there was sufficient evidence to bring a corporate manslaughter charge it would not be in the public interest to do so since there were only two directors and George Collier was the only director involved in the incident.
With a suggestion from the HSE that there are other potential cases of corporate manslaughter currently being investigated, it appears that the HSE and the police are keen to pursue such charges where appropriate. Recent changes to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 have extended the ambit of the Act to cover deaths in custody with effect from 1 September 2011. Charges will be considered if facilities such as police custody suites, mental health detention facilities and young offenders institutions caused a death and are organised or managed in a way which amounts to a gross breach of duty.