On 7 September 2023 it was announced that charges were authorised by the CPS against North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT), following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police into the death of 22-year-old patient Alice Figueiredo on 7 July 2015 at Goodmayes Hospital in Redbridge, East London.
NELFT was charged with corporate manslaughter under section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (“CMCHA”) as well as an offence under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (“HSWA 1974”). Section 3 imposes a general duty on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that non-employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Benjamin Aninakwa, a ward manager at Goodmayes Hospital at the time, has also been charged with gross negligence manslaughter and an offence under section 7 of HSWA 1974. Gross negligence manslaughter is committed when a death is the result of a grossly negligence act or omission by an individual. Section 7 imposes a duty for all employees, whilst at work, to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others who may be affected by their act or omissions at work.
The case is relatively unusual as corporate manslaughter prosecutions are rarely brought. As we have noted previously, when they are, they are often difficult to prove.
For a section 1 CMCHA offence to be proven, the prosecution must provide evidence, so that the jury is sure, that the way in which an organisation managed or organised its activities not only caused an individual’s death but also amounted to a gross breach of a duty of care owed to that individual (and the way in which senior management organised/managed its activities was a substantial element of that breach). ‘Gross’ is defined as a breach that falls far below what can reasonably be expected of an organisation in the circumstances. ‘Senior management’ is defined as people who play a significant role in making decisions about how all or a substantial part of the activities are to be managed or organised.
Therefore, in bringing this case the prosecution will not only need to look at how NELFT managed and organised itself, but also adduce evidence of causation. This will inevitably require addressing other possible causes of death so that they can be excluded. If the prosecution is unable to make the jury sure that the other explanations can be excluded however, then NELFT cannot be found guilty.
NELFT has also been charged with an offence under section 3 of HSWA 1974 which also, like corporate manslaughter, carries an unlimited fine on conviction. In February 2022 the Court demonstrated how high these fines can be, after British Gas was sentenced to a fine of £5m following a gas explosion in February 2019 which killed a woman in her home. The cause of the gas escape was a fractured pipe that did not appear on the Northern Gas Networks’ drawings and so had not been maintained as required.
Corporate manslaughter charges are not only difficult to bring, but also rarely brought against a health service body. The first such prosecution under the CMCHA was brought in 2016 against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust following the tragic death of a woman hours after giving birth to her second child. The case collapsed two weeks into the trial after the judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.