The first company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has been given a relatively lenient fine of £385,000 at Winchester Crown Court today.
Justice Field ordered Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings (CGH) to pay the fine in 10 yearly installments of £38,500. The crime carries an unlimited fine, with a suggested minimum of £500,000.
CGH was found guilty on Tuesday of corporate manslaughter after junior geotechnical engineer Alexander Wright died in a trial pit collapse on one of its sites on 5 September 2008.
The relatively lenient fine was due to the small scale of CGH’s operation − as reflected in its small turnover of £154,033 in the year to march 2010 − and its “powerless” current financial state, the judge said.
The court heard that the company has a deficit of £29,671 and would likely have folded already but for the fact that CGH director Peter Eaton recently put in £17,524 of his own money.
Justice Field said he would have also ordered CGH to pay legal costs to the prosecution if the company had been larger or in better financial health.
He said the fine may put CGH into liquidation. “That is unfortunate but it is unavoidable and it is a consequence of this serious breach of duty.”
He said the fine had to “send out a clear message… In particular to those in the construction, excavation and site investigation sectors that it is essential that health and safety guidance and good practice is strictly adhered to”.
Justice Field said the danger of collapse in the pit that killed Wright was “plainly foreseeable”.
“Peter Eaton thought he knew better than the long-established guidance. In this he was gravely and culpably mistaken,” said Justice Field. “It set a lamentable example for young geologists like Wright.”
Wright’s family said they had sympathies with the judge’s decision to be lenient because it might prevent CGH employees losing their jobs.
They said Wright never knew that Eaton planned for him to potentially lead the company after Eaton’s retirement. “He would have adored knowing that,” they said. “Peter Eaton was very good at thinking things but not saying them on a wider scale.”