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Company convicted of corporate manslaughter

15 February 2011

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings has become the first company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter.

There was nobody in the dock during the three week trial at Winchester Crown Court because the company’s sole director, Peter Eaton, was too ill to stand trial (see solicitorsjournal.com 19 October 2010).

Alex Wright, a 27-year-old geologist, was taking soil samples from a deep trench on a building site in Stroud when the trench collapsed, killing him.

Kate Leonard, reviewing lawyer from the Crown Prosecution Service special crime division, said she hoped the conviction offered Wright’s family “some sense of justice”.

She went on: “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 two to 3.5 metres deep. Mr Wright was working in just such a pit when he died.”

Peter Eaton, the company’s sole director, was originally charged with offences under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 and under section 37 of the Health and Safety Act 1974.

However, a judge at Bristol Crown Court stayed proceedings against him on the grounds of ill health.

The company will be sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Thursday this week. Under the Act, the penalty is an unlimited fine.

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Procedures EU & International Local government