£385,000 fine after first corporate manslaughter trial

18 February 2011

Ground testing firm Cotswold Geotechnical has been fined £385,000 after becoming the first ever company to be found guilty of corporate manslaughter, Construction News reported.

Geologist Alexander Wright, 27, was investigating ground conditions in a deep trench on a development site in Stroud when it collapsed and killed him in September 2008, the website Construction Enquirer also reported.

It is the first time a firm has been convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Judge Justice Field said the relatively high fine marked the gravity of the crime and the deterrent effect it would have on companies to comply with health and safety laws. He said the firm, which the court had heard was in financial difficulty, could pay the fine over 10 years at £38,500 a year.

“It may well be that the fine in the terms of its payment will put this company into liquidation. If that is the case it’s unfortunate but unavoidable but it’s a consequence of the serious breach,” he said.

Commenting on the sentence, Kingsley Napley partner and health and safety expert Jonathan Grimes told Construction News:  “This is a very substantial fine for a firm of this size but not out of step with guidance published last year by the Sentencing Guidelines Council which recommended a starting point of £500,000 for convictions for corporate manslaughter. That this fine is lower than this recommended level will be a reflection of the company’s limited means.”

No-one was in the dock during the three-week trial as the director of the company Peter Eaton, 61, is too ill to attend the court.

The court heard that Wright, who had worked for Cotswold Geotechnical for two years, had been left to work alone in an unshored 3.5 metre-deep trench to ‘finish up’ after the company director had decided to leave for the day.

The owners of the site decided to stay on as they knew Wright was working alone in the trench. About 15 minutes later they heard a muffled noise and then a shout for help. While one of the men called the emergency services, the other one ran to the trench where he saw earth had fallen in and buried Wright up to his head. He climbed in to try and help, but more earth subsequently fell on the young geologist.

Wright died of traumatic asphyxiation. 


The safety of people at work and in the work place is paramount Mr wright should have not been allowed to work in an un shored 3.5 m trench, and alone, I feel the site management has been incompetent in this case, however for the young mans safety a risk assessment should of been made clear and method statement in place for this operation my thought go out to the family of Mr wright.

Mr W J McNair, 19 February 2011

I have to agree with previous comment, the site management are completely responsible, a current risk assessment and method statement would have prevented entry into the trench in the first place, when will we learn that we must ensure all construction workers protect each other and themselves from dangerous situations.
One life, cherish it.
Condolences to the family of the late Mr Wright.

David Marsh, 4 July 2011

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