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Big boys getting off the hook

AGENDA

THE HOME Office is concerned that current corporate manslaughter legislation is biased against larger organisations because of the difficulty of proving a 'controlling mind' behind the offences.

In its regulatory impact assessment on the draft Bill last year, it said: 'Currently, where prosecutions for corporate manslaughter do occur and are successful, they are usually against small businesses whose management structures are clear.' In October 2005, Balfour Beatty and five former Railtrack bosses evaded a corporate manslaughter prosecution over the Hatfield rail crash five years earlier in which four people died.

After an eight month trial, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Mackay, ordered the jury to clear the defendants ? but imposed a £10 million fine on Balfour Beatty under health and safety legislation after what he described as the 'worst example of sustained negligence in a high-risk industry I have ever seen'.

In 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service was also forced to drop plans for a manslaughter prosecution against Costain and Yarm Road ? formerly Kvaerner Cleveland Bridge ? over the Avonmouth gantry collapse in 1999 due to lack of evidence. Four workers died and the firms were each fined £250,000 following the tragedy.

But smaller firms have fared less well under the law. Cambridgeshire contractor English Brothers was fined £30,000 in 2001 after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of a site foreman who fell to his death in 2000.

English Brothers had denied the charge, but changed its plea after the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service said they would drop the individual manslaughter charge against company director Melvyn Hubbard.