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May 12, 2011

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Corporate manslaughter appeal rebuffed

The Court of Appeal yesterday (11 May) refused an application from Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd for leave to appeal against its conviction and sentence imposed in February, following the first corporate manslaughter trial. 

The company, which was found guilty of corporate manslaughter over the death of employee Alexander Wright in September 2008, was fined £385,000, to be paid in equal instalments over a 10-year period.

QEB Hollis Whiteman Chambers, whose members Mark Ellison QC and Adrian Darbishire helped prosecute the company, said in a statement: “The Lord Chief Justice said the applicant’s arguments did not show any possible basis for criticising the way in which the judge had approached the question of whether it was unfair to try the company in the absence of its managing director, who was too ill to participate in the proceedings.”

The statement continued: “As far as sentence was concerned, the fine imposed was appropriate. To limit a fine to the level which this company was capable of paying would have resulted in a ludicrous penalty. The trial judge correctly applied the Sentencing Guidelines, had regard to the need to consider the means of the company, but also had regard to the recognition in the guidelines that, in some cases, putting the company out of business may be inevitable, as it was in this case.”

The company had also been charged with a separate health and safety offence but this was dropped by the prosecution in January 2011. Peter Eaton, the company’s managing director, had been charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and a health and safety offence in his own personal capacity. However, these personal charges were stopped after a successful application by the defence team on the grounds of Mr Eaton’s poor health. 

Kevin Bridges, partner at Pinsent Masons, which represented the company, said: “The decision to uphold the sentence given for this conviction brings home with full force the severity with which such cases will be judged. It should serve as a stark reminder to businesses and their directors that now is the time to get their houses in order, as anyone who falls foul of this Act will be harshly punished. Small businesses may find themselves unable to continue trading, while larger organisations can expect multi-million-pound fines.”

Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) and Mr Eaton stated they held Alex Wright in the highest regard and deeply regret the tragic incident.

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Andrew
Andrew

This appeal had no chance. The company was rightly found guilty and, being the first ‘test’ case for the Act, the sentence had to set a high watermark in terms of the fine and sentence. But it will be interesting to see what fine a large company will get for such an offence!

Paul
Paul

Furher news about Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings

Ray
Ray

I was surprised that an Appeal was even considered. Mr Eaton had several charges dropped by the CPS due to his ‘ill health’ and the company were treated quite fairly by the Judge given the seriouness of the offence. There is something about accepting your punishment gracefully.