High fines anticipated for corporate manslaughter


A company convicted of corporate manslaughter has been fined 116 per cent of its annual turnover.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd (CGH) was fined £385,000 last week at Winchester Crown Court, after becoming the first to be convicted of the new offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

A geologist working for CGH died in 2008 when a trench he was working in collapsed. The company was found to have breached health and safety legislation and ignored industry guidance. The company director, Peter Eaton, was previously charged with gross negligence manslaughter and a health and safety offence, but was ruled too unwell to stand trial.  

Gerard Forlin QC, of 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square, who specialises in health and safety law, says: “This company had a turnover in 2008 of £333,000 and was fined 116% of that. It was given a relatively long time to pay—ten years with £38,500 due each year.

“I think companies are going to sit up and listen, as fines potentially have to be paid within 28 days according to the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) guidance. In the context of its turnover, this is a high fine. If a fine of 116% were made against an oil company, large supermarket chain, bank or manufacturer then you can imagine the impact.

“However, each case will turn on its own facts and on the company’s ability to pay. I don’t think the court was sending out any particular message with this. It must be recalled that the SGC guidance set out the principles in any event.” Forlin believes the case could put “the wind in the sails of the CPS” and lead to more prosecutions of larger organisations for corporate manslaughter.

Berrymans Lace Mawer LLP partner, Helen Devery says: “Although the fine is less than the starting point of £500,000 recommended by the SGC it will no doubt have a dramatic impact on a company of this size, reflecting the trend towards harsher penalties.”