The first corporate manslaughter case to be brought under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force in April 2008, was brought against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd, an engineering consultancy based in Gloucestershire.
The company was charged in relation to the death, in September 2008, of Alexander Wright, a geology graduate who was taking soil samples in a trench at a site in Stroud when the walls collapsed, crushing him to death. The managing director of the company, Peter Eaton, was also charged with unlawfully killing Mr Wright by gross negligence in relation to the incident. The company and Mr Eaton personally also faced one charge each under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
The case has been postponed several times because of Mr Eaton’s ill health and it has now been reported that the charges against him have been permanently stayed on health grounds. The case against the company is now scheduled to be heard on 24 January 2011 unless the company’s solicitors can persuade the judge that the case should be dropped altogether.
A company convicted of corporate manslaughter can be liable to pay an unlimited fine. Organisations should keep their procedures under review, especially those with direct health and safety implications. Successful defences to charges of corporate manslaughter depend on being able to demonstrate that the organisation takes a responsible attitude to health and safety, with appropriate risk management procedures in place and rigorously enforced.