Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd becomes the first company to be convicted under new corporate manslaughter legislation.

Young college graduate and geologist Alexander Wright died tragically when the trial pit he was working in capsized. His employers, Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd, have now been convicted of the first corporate manslaughter.

Following failed prosecutions for manslaughter against large companies and individuals there has been a lobby of voices calling for changes to the law. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which came into force on the 6th April 2008, aims to address the shortfalls highlighted by the failure of previous prosecutions in accidents succeeding.

The new law is intended to make it simpler for a conviction to be made. The intention is that courts will look at management systems and practices across the organisation, providing a more effective means for prosecuting the worst corporate failures to manage health and safety properly.  Prior to this new Act an individual person had to be identified as the 'directing mind' of the company. That individual had to be identified and had to be guilty of gross negligence or manslaughter and until then the company could not be convicted. The new act makes the employer account for the actions of all of its senior managers and not just one individual.

The aim is to make it easier for large firms and businesses to be held accountable and the thought was that the Act would be used very rarely. 

More tragic then that the first time the Act was put to the test was in such sad circumstances. 

Twenty seven year old Mr Wright, an employee of Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd, had been working at a development site with Mr Eaton the company director.  Mr Eaton then left the site and Mr Wright continued with his work in the 12.6 ft deep, unsupported pit.  The owners of the plot said at the trial that they heard "an odd muffled noise and then a cry for help". They went to the pit and could see that soil had fallen onto Mr Wright.  The court heard of their attempts to help the young man and to get the emergency services to the scene. Attempts to remove the soil from Mr Wright's face failed and more soil fell into the pit and He died from traumatic asphyxiation as his body was crushed by the weight of the soil. 

Mr Eaton has been too ill to stand trial but in a statement he said someone always had to be above ground if a person had entered a pit. He said he was "astonished" Mr Wright entered the pit after he had left the site.

Mark Ellison QC, prosecuting, told the jury "the case against the company was essentially an assessment of the conduct of Peter Eaton".

"The substantial cause of Alex Wright's death was the failure of the company to manage its affairs so as to comply with its legal duty to ensure that Alex Wright's health was not put at risk."

The circumstances of the accident were investigated by the police, in this case the Gloucestershire Constabulary and supported by the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution took the case to court. The jury only took an hour and a half to reach its' guilty verdict and many would say that the size of the company was not that for which the legislation was intended.



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