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First company convicted under new corporate manslaughter law

A Gloucestershire-based engineering business has become the first company to be convicted under new corporate manslaughter legislation following the death of a young geologist who died working on a project in September 2008.

Cotswold Geotechnical was found guilty by a jury at Winchester Crown Court, the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said in a statement.

Alexander Wright was investigating soil conditions in a deep trench on a development plot in Stroud when it collapsed and killed him.

The CPS told the court that 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 Wright was working alone in the trench. About 15 minutes later they heard a muffled noise and then a shout for help.

The prosecution’s case was that Wright was working in a dangerous trench because Cotswold Geotechnical’s systems had “failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect him from working in that way”.

In convicting the company, the CPS said the jury found that its 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 two to 3.5 metres deep”, the CPS said.

The conviction is the first to be made under the 2008 Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.

Before the 2008 act, cases such as this were rarely brought to court because the law required an individual to be named as the defendant, but the new act makes companies liable even if there is no single individual within the company’s management to blame.

The case has been adjourned for sentence later today and the company could face an unlimited fine.


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