Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings convicted of first corporate manslaughter charge under new Act
Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings has today become the first company to be convicted of the new offence of corporate manslaughter.
Alex Wright was 27-years-old when he died on 5 September 2008. He was a geologist for Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings and was investigating soil conditions in a deep trench on a development plot in Stroud when it collapsed and killed him.
Kate Leonard, reviewing lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Special Crime Division, said:
"Alex Wright was a young man, full of promise. His death is a tragedy for all those who loved him and would never have happened if Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings had properly protected him.
"I hope that this conviction offers his family some sense of justice. I send them my sincere condolences once again."
The CPS told the court that Mr Wright was left working alone in the 3.5 metre-deep trench to 'finish-up' when the company director left for the day. The two people who owned the development plot decided to stay at the site as they knew Mr Wright was working alone in the trench. About 15 minutes later they heard a muffled noise and then a shout for help.
While one of the plot-owners called the emergency services, the other one ran to the trench where he saw that a surge of soil had fallen in and buried Mr Wright up to his head. He climbed into the trench and removed some of the soil to enable Mr Wright to breathe. At that point, more earth fell so quickly into the pit that it covered Mr Wright completely and, despite the plot owners best efforts, Mr Wright died of traumatic asphyxiation.
The prosecution's case was that Mr Wright was working in a dangerous trench because Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings' systems had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect him from working in that way. In convicting the company, the jury found that their system of work in digging trial pits was wholly and unnecessarily dangerous. The company ignored well-recognised industry guidance that prohibited entry into excavations more than 1.2 metres deep, requiring junior employees to enter into and work in unsupported trial pits, typically from 2 to 3.5 metres deep. Mr Wright was working in just such a pit when he died.
There was no person in the dock at Winchester Crown Court during the three-week trial as it is the company, rather than an individual, which is charged with corporate manslaughter.
The case was investigated by Gloucestershire Constabulary and supported by the Health and Safety Executive.
Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings will be sentenced on Thursday 17 February 2011.
Notes to Editors
- For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
- This prosecution relates only to Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd of Birdlip, Gloucestershire, and does not involve any other company operating in the geotechnical field.
- The sentence for corporate manslaughter is an unlimited fine which is to be determined by a judge. The judge may also give the organisation a publicity or remedial order.
- Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care to the person who died. A substantial part of the breach must have been in the way activities were organised by senior management. In charging Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings we concluded that there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for this offence.
- The new offence came into force in April 2008. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering a number of other files of evidence in relation to further possible prosecutions for the offence.
- Alex Wright graduated in 2002 from Imperial College London, having taken a degree in geology. He worked for a company called Norwest Holst from October 2003 to April 2005, where he was trained in a number of aspects of soil investigation and received relevant health and safety training connected to that work. In January 2006 he started working for Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd.
- Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was a small company that employed eight people in 2008 and Peter Eaton was in overall control of the way the company managed its affairs.
- The company director, Peter Eaton, was previously charged with gross negligence manslaughter and a health and safety offence, but a judge ruled last year that he was too unwell to stand trial.
- Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was also charged with failing to discharge a duty contrary to Section 33, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. After the judge ruled Peter Eaton should not stand trial, he asked the prosecution to consider whether the two different burdens of proof for the two remaining charges might confuse a jury. The prosecution
asked the jury only to consider the offence of corporate manslaughter.
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