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Manslaughter: four in the dock

String of court cases follows introduction of more strenuous accident investigations

FOUR building bosses will face manslaughter charges during the next fortnight.

The court cases highlight how vigorous new investigation methods by the police and Health and Safety Executive are hitting home.

An HSE spokeswoman said safety inspectors were liaising more closely than ever with detectives following site deaths.

She said: 'We believe closer co-operation between the HSE, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service has helped with better management of investigations.'

George Brumwell, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said: 'The industry has got an exceptionally bad record and it has rightly been singled out by the Government and the Health and Safety Executive.'

The first boss in the dock is Terrence Astin, from Poole, who is due to appear at the Old Bailey today (Thursday) charged with manslaughter. The hearing follows the death of Marc Polden, 30, who died in August 2001 after a tank caught fire on a site at Leadbury Mews, west London. He was taken to a specialist burns unit but died a week later.

Alan Swift Roofing Contracts and its director Alan Swift are due to go on trial on Monday for the alleged manslaughter of Allan Mannerings, who fell to his death while working for the firm in July 2001. Mr Swift has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Construction timber supplier Teglgaard Hardwood UK and two of its directors, John Horner, 58, and his son John William Horner, 31, are charged with the manslaughter of an 18-year-old labourer and are due to go on trial on February 24. Christopher Longrigg was killed when timber fell on him at Dunstan's shipyard, Hessle, East Yorkshire, in April 2000. The case is expected to last four weeks.

The cases are being heard as the longawaited corporate killing bill suffered another setback.

An industry source said: 'The Government appears to have cooled off on the bill. Large companies need to be held accountable. It is currently easier to prosecute small firms.'

According to a Home Office spokesman, the findings of a consultation in 2000 on reforming the law are yet to be drawn up into a bill. He said: 'We remain committed to legislation in this area but we are awaiting a parliamentary slot.'