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August 9, 2009

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Haulage firm and senior managers acquitted of manslaughter

A Dorset haulage company, one of its directors, and an employee have been cleared of corporate manslaughter charges over the death of two people in a road crash involving one of its vehicles.

Neville and Cheryl De’Ath died when the car they were travelling in was hit by an articulated lorry owned by Blandford firm, Translact, on the A303 on 2 March, 2007. The driver of the lorry, Polish national Maciej Szcygiecki, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed for four years in 2007.

The Crown Prosecution Service subsequently indicted Translact — a subsidiary of Taymix Transport Ltd — as well as director, Robert Taylor, and transport planner, Nicholas Read, on two counts each of gross negligence manslaughter, in that they failed in their duty of care to the De’Aths by not ensuring that their driver was in a physical and mental condition to undertake the journeys allocated to him so as not to put himself or others at risk.

The prosecution’s case rested on the fatigue levels of the driver, which, it argued, were a direct cause of the accident. During the month-long trial at Winchester Crown Court, Sasha Wass QC sought to establish that Translact had directed its drivers — and, in particular, Maciej Szcygiecki — to exceed maximum legal working time, that it was aware its drivers were over-tired and did not take sufficient rest, and that it did not provide an adequate sleeping environment for them.

Despite testimony on the effect of sleep deprivation on driver performance from an expert witness, who “absolutely” held the view that driver fatigue — as a result of long-hours working for many weeks, with only one rest day in 45 — was a significant cause of the incident, Judge Guy Boney directed that the charges be dropped on 3 August.

The judge accepted the defence claim that there was no case to answer in relation to the manslaughter charges, because it was “impossible” to determine without doubt a link between driver fatigue and working hours, or to rule out driver error as a particular cause. A CPS spokesperson told SHP: “The main plank of our case was the driver was fatigued. The problem was not so much with the evidence as with whether or not it was possible to prove the ‘causation’ element of the offence.”

A range of health and safety charges was also laid against Translact and some of its senior personnel, for which they will be sentenced on 4 September. The company and Robert Taylor are both charged with breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974, as is company secretary Claire Ridout, and Taymix director, Christopher Taylor. All have pleaded guilty.

Nicholas Read was charged with a breach of section 7 of the HSWA for failing to take reasonable care of others affected by his acts or omissions at work, but this was dropped following the successful ‘no case to answer’ submission. All remaining charges against Taymix were also discharged.

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