THE first company to stand trial under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has been fined £385,000 after being found guilty by the jury at Winchester Crown Court.
The case highlights the need for companies to ensure they have robust health and safety procedures in place.
The conviction of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd came after a two-week trial at the court, where the company answered charges by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the death of an employee in 2008.
The company had denied corporate manslaughter.
In sentencing on February 17, the judge confirmed the company could pay the fine over 10 years, with £38,500 due every year of that period. The company does not have to pay any costs.
The fine is lower than was probably expected in light of the recent sentencing guidelines, but the company was reported to have had a turnover of only £333,000 so the fine is still significant.
The court heard that the deceased, a junior geologist, had been left working alone in a 3.5 metres deep trench to “finish up” after the managing director of the company had left for the day.
A short while later, the trench collapsed on the employee and buried him.
Despite the plot owner’s best efforts to free him, the geologist died of asphyxiation.
The managing director had originally been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence, as well as a health and safety offence, in his own capacity, but these charges were dropped after a successful application by his defence team last October on the grounds of his poor health.
The company also originally faced a separate health and safety offence, but this was dropped by the prosecution in January this year after the judge raised the issue of whether the two different burdens of proof for the two remaining charges might confuse a jury.
In convicting the company on February 15, the jury found that the company’s system of work in digging trial pits was wholly and unnecessarily dangerous.
The company ignored industry guidance, which 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 metres to 3.5 metres deep.
A solicitor stated that the physical stress of the process will not have been lost on those holding senior positions.
It is also well-documented that the managing director has been very ill, in no small part due to the stress of being charged with manslaughter in his own right and the undoubted impact on his business.