On 15 February, a Jury returned a guilty verdict in the first prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. The Act came into force in April 2008.
In this case the deceased was a young graduate geologist, Alex Wright. He was engaged in work taking soil samples from a trial pit and was left working alone in a 3.5 metre-deep trench to 'finish-up' when the company director left for the day. Tragically there was a soil collapse and despite the plot owners’ best efforts, Mr Wright died of traumatic asphyxiation.
The prosecution's case was that Mr Wright was working in a dangerous trench because Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings' systems had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect him from working in that way. It was alleged that the company ignored well-recognised industry guidance that prohibited entry into excavations more than 1.2 metres deep by requiring junior employees to enter into and work in unsupported trial pits, typically from 2 to 3.5 metres deep.
The company was sentenced on 17 February 2011 and received a fine of £385,000.
The accused in this case is a relatively small company with a sole director who also managed the company’s affairs. As such the case does not give us any guidance as to how the offence is likely to be applied to larger organisations with complex management structures but it is understood that in light of this case the Crown Prosecution Service are reviewing a number of other files with a view to further prosecutions for the offence. It is anticipated that Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will be doing the same in Scotland.