Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 19:03 UK

Firm charged over worker's death

Alex Wright: Picture from Gloucestershire News Service
Alexander Wright was taking soil samples when the pit collapsed

A company has become the first in the UK to be charged under the 2007 Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is accused over the death of employee Alexander Wright, 27, who was killed when a pit collapsed in September 2008.

The junior geologist was taking soil samples at a site near Stroud in Gloucestershire at the time.

Company director Peter Eaton is charged with gross negligence manslaughter and could be jailed for life if convicted.

The maximum sentence for the firm is an unlimited fine.

Mr Eaton is due before magistrates in Stroud on 17 June. Both he and the company also face health and safety charges.

'Duty of care'

The 2007 Corporate Manslaughter Act was brought in to make it easier to bring companies to justice over the death of employees.

Kate Leonard, of the CPS Special Crime Division, said that an organisation was guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities were managed or organised caused a death, and amounted to a gross breach of a duty of care to the person who died.

"A substantial part of the breach must have been in the way activities were organised by senior management," she added.

"I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for this offence."

The prosecution was likely to be the first of many under the new legislation said Kevin Elliott, a regulatory partner at the law firm Eversheds.

Many work-related fatalities which occurred after April 2008 were currently under investigation for corporate manslaughter, he added, saying the offence took significant investigation by the police.

But Mr Elliot said there were still questions as to how the legislation relating to corporate manslaughter should be interpreted.

"In the meantime the message to all organisations could not be clearer - you must ensure your business is properly managing health and safety at all levels and that all applicable legislation and guidance is adhered to."

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