Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Limited became the first company in the UK to be convicted of corporate manslaughter on 15 February 2011. The first criminal prosecution of a company under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was widely reported back in 2009 and again in April last year when the trial was due to begin. However, this was delayed due to the ill health of Peter Eaton, the director accused personally of gross negligence manslaughter. Mr Eaton remains too ill to stand trial.
The company defended the charges but the jury found that the company’s system of work (relating to the digging of trial pits) was dangerous and that it had not complied with industry guidance. On 17 February 2011, the company was fined £385,000 (more than its gross annual turnover at the time of the incident) payable over ten years.
A “first” prosecution will always receive a lot of attention and the fine was very big considering the size of the company. However, it continues to reinforce the message that every organisation must make health and safety their top priority. Those that don’t will find their own liberty under threat and the organisation facing financial ruin.