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First Corporate Manslaughter case - company found guilty

18/02/2011

The first company to stand trial under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was found guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court on 16 February 2011 and is required to pay a total fine of £385,000, to be paid over a 10 year period.

The conviction of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd came after a two-week trial, where the company answered charges brought by the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to the death of Alexander Wright in September 2008. The company had pleaded not guilty.

Mr Wright had been working alone in a 3.5m trench after the Managing Director of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, Peter Eaton, left for the day. The trench collapsed on Mr Wright and buried him. Despite the efforts to free him, he died at the scene of asphyxiation.

Mr Peter Eaton 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 earlier dropped on the grounds of his poor health.

Commenting on the case, Rob Castledine, Director of Three Spires Safety Ltd said:
"Whilst this is the first case to be brought under the new Act, there needs to be further cases invloving larger, more complex organisations before any firm conclusions over the exact extent and nature of the offence of corporate manslaughter. In particular, the extent to which senior management are seen to have played a key role in any fatality.
 
What’s interesting in this first case is that the level of fine, at £385,000, as this falls short of the expected minimum of £500,000 previously suggested by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. In Costswold Geotechnical’s case, the fine is very substantial, as it's been reported that their annual turnover in the year of the accident was only £330,000".

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