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October 18, 2011

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CPS says sorry for mistakes in fatality investigation

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has apologised to the family of a man killed at work for its botched investigation into his death.

In a meeting with Dorothy and Douglas Wright on 10 October, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC gave his personal and unreserved apology on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over its mishandling of the case of their son, Mark Wright, who was killed in April 2005. It is believed to be the first apology of this type to be given in a workplace-death case.

Mr Wright died in hospital from severe burns after an aerosol canister he was crushing exploded and engulfed him in flames, at Deeside Metal Company’s scrapyard at Saltney, in Chester.

An HSE prosecution in December last year saw Jeyes UK – which failed to label the canisters it manufactured as hazardous – and Deeside Metals – which wrongly assumed the canisters being handled by Mark Wright to be empty – fined £330,000 and £100,000, respectively. Deeside Metal Company site manager Robert Roberts, who instructed Mr Wright to crush the canisters in a metal baler, was also fined £10,000.

The CPS initially ruled that Deeside Metal, Jeyes UK and Roberts should not face manslaughter charges, even though none of them had followed safe procedures. However, when, more than four years later, the CPS’ Department for Public Prosecutions reconsidered the matter and decided that Roberts should face manslaughter charges, a court ruled that the delay meant that any subsequent trial would be an ‘abuse of process’.

The CPS said it has undertaken to contact the relevant authorities that deal with workplace deaths to discuss and address the issues highlighted by the case.

The apology comes after a lengthy campaign by the pressure group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), and MP for North Ayrshire and Arran Katy Clark, who attended the meeting last week between Mark Wright’s parents and the CPS. Ms Clark said: “It is clear there could have been a criminal prosecution for manslaughter. The failures in how Mark’s case was handled meant that this did not happen.

“It is the first time an apology of this type has been given in a death-at-work case. It highlights that cases of this nature are not given the attention and the priority they should by the authorities. It is important because we need to take prosecutions against unscrupulous employers where there has been clear negligence, to do all we can to prevent avoidable deaths at work.”

She added: “Now that the failures in how Mark’s case was investigated have been acknowledged, it is essential that measures are put in place to stop them from ever reoccurring”.

FACK spokeswoman Hilda Palmer said: “This apology to the Wrights is crucial in acknowledging the specific and atrocious failures in their case, but the DPP needs to go further in ensuring the way all work-related deaths are handled is vastly improved – in speed, in the way families are treated, and especially that such deaths are investigated and prosecuted as serious crimes, not mere breaches of regulations.”

FACK has also raised concerns over the changes to the Work-Related Deaths Protocol, which should allow more HSE prosecutions to be taken before inquests. In a statement, the pressure group said: “Families want cases to be investigated rapidly and effectively, and cases against negligent parties brought as soon as possible. But they also want to know that these cases are well-made, with all the relevant information available to the prosecution. In many cases, extra information, useful to the prosecution case, is provided and tested by the inquest.”

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12 years ago

It seems very similar to the Simon Jones case where the student was killed within minutes of starting work on his first day at Shoreham Docks.

12 years ago

The only similarity with the Simon Jones case is another a poor decision by the CPS. The case was subject to a judicial review after the CPS refused to prosecute the owner and company for the fatality. The judicial review was succesful.

A not guilty majority decision for gross negligent and corporate manslaughter was the verdict. However, the company was found guilty of h&s charges and fined £50,000.