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October 12, 2010

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Charges against director dropped in first corporate manslaughter trial

The long-awaited trial of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has been adjourned again until 24 January 2011.

But the company’s managing director, Peter Eaton, will not now face trial accused of gross negligence manslaughter and an offence under s37 of the HSWA, after his solicitors, Pinsent Masons LLP, successfully argued for both charges to be dropped. In open court on 6 October, the judge ruled that, owing to the ill health of Mr Eaton, the two charges against him should be permanently stayed.

The trial of the company, on the charge of corporate manslaughter and for allegedly breaching s2 of the HSWA, will proceed on the new date, with the judge indicating that it may now be heard in Winchester Crown Court rather than in Bristol. The judge also indicated that he would not tolerate any further delays in the case.

However, Pinsent Masons is calling for the corporate manslaughter case to be dropped as well. Kevin Bridges, a partner at the firm, said: “There will be a further hearing before Mr Justice Field where this will be argued in December. The issue is whether he [Mr Eaton] is fit even to give evidence and instructions to his defence team and, if he can’t, whether the company can be tried at all.”

The Crown Prosecution Service originally laid the charges against both Mr Eaton and the company in April last year, following the death of employee Alex Wright in September 2008.

The trial was due to start on 23 February this year but following submissions heard in private on 26 February, the judge directed that the trial be adjourned and be listed to resume at the start of this month.

Sally Roff, partner and head of the safety, health and environment group at law firm Beachcroft LLP, believes that the Corporate Manslaughter Act has been tainted by the latest delay in court proceedings.

She said: “At a time when there is so much scrutiny over the effective use of public funds, one wonders what is to be gained from pursuing a ‘shell’ company.

“There is little prospect of a significant fine being levied on any conviction and it is unlikely that there will be any meaningful guidance on how the Corporate Manslaughter Act is to be interpreted, particularly in terms of who, for the purpose of the Act, would fall into the definition of ‘senior management’.

“Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is a very small company and it is unlikely that there will be any detailed consideration of who constituted its senior management. The Corporate Manslaughter Act has become tarnished with delay, both by the time it took to come to the statute books and now in its implementation.”

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is unable to comment further at this stage, given that the proceedings are continuing.

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Andy
Andy
11 years ago

Corporate manslaughter was intended to be used where the controlling mind could not be identified, but Peter Eaton was identified as the controlling mind and charged as an individual under section 37.
The act is intended for large corporations so lets see it used as intended on a multinational or other large company.
Being charged with manslaughter with the prospect of prison would make most people’s health deteriorate and with good reason

Duncan
Duncan
11 years ago

To hopefully clarify the situation for the other correspondents, I understand that Mr Eaton is suffering from severe mental illness caused by the stress of this prosecution. I’m sure that this will have been checked by the Prosecution, before argeeing to drop the case.

Reporting have stated that the charges against the Company still stand, though question whether that prosecution can continue, as one of the main participants in the case would be Mr Eaton.

Gdjfudge
Gdjfudge
11 years ago

I have to wonder how ill Mr Eaton is, remember the chairman of Guiness who is the only known person to recover from Altzhimers. Beechcroft’s comments simply indicate that they they dont really have a decent defence to offer and are simply trying to “rubbish” the actions of the prosecutor and pressurise them to withdraw. The usual routine.
I expect that all the assets the company ever owned have already be transferred out so that the company directors keep their money.

Glennluff
Glennluff
11 years ago

Sounds like a pint of guiness to me!
Also there is the damage to the act itself by this action, in a political climate that is hardy H&S friendly, does not bode well for other victims of H&S mis-management.

Ipennell
Ipennell
11 years ago

Maybe I’m missing something here, I’m finding it some what difficult to beleve that Peter Eaton is so gravely ill so much so he cannot even speak so it seems, yet less than three years ago he was seeminly fit enough to be The Managing director of a company!
Peter do that right thing now come on, stand trial you took the chance but you got caught & now its time your took your punishment

Liam
Liam
11 years ago

What a cop out.This is the oldest trick in the book. What about the man that died. his family etc.
They have had a loved one die and this guy pleads ill health. Sorry I just don’t buy that. This kind of thing proves that in these islands the judiciary are away with the fairies

Malcolm
Malcolm
11 years ago

Mike
Yes, I know. It’s so grossly unfair that we don’t have an eye-for-an-eye and blood money in our legal system isn’t it? And of course we safety bods always prefer the ‘Guilty’ till proved ‘really guilty’ rather than that usual and rather unsatisfactory other method.

Paulverrico
Paulverrico
11 years ago

POeter Eaton was charged with Gross Negligence Manslaughted in the first instance, Section 2 (through the section 37 gateway) was the alternative. The whole prosecution is the desperate need of the CPS for a ‘slam dunk’ on thie first case. Complete waste of resource, as noted above.

Richard
Richard
11 years ago

It doesn’t matter which way you look at this, the only winners are the lawyers. If Mr Eaton is so ill then his life is arguably ruined. And what about the guy who was killed and his family – it doesn’t bear thinking about. Meanwhile the lawyers get wealthy and acclaimed – a real result for the British justice system. Well done the law makers!

Shp
Shp
11 years ago

What a waste of time and the public’s money. If the bloke was this ill why did the CPS pursue charges against him in the first place?

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