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Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Corporate killing charge proposed

The Kings Cross fire killed 31 people in 1987
An attempt to introduce a new law which would make companies liable for the death of workers or members of the public has been heard by MPs.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore is proposing a law of corporate killing - where the conduct of a firm's senior management falls below reasonable expectations and results in a person's death - in his Corporate Homicide Bill .

At the moment, only individuals within companies can be prosecuted which means many large companies often escape liability.

The bill would close a loophole which has meant only two firms have ever been successfully prosecuted under existing law.

It would have increased the chance of convictions after the Hillsborough soccer disaster, Piper Alpha oil rig fire, Clapham rail crash and Zeebrugge ferry sinking, Mr Dismore said.

'Devastation'

If a company was convicted, apart from imposing "severe" punishment, a judge could order it to put right its failings.

The chairman and managing director would also be given overall responsibility for the health and safety of their workforce and the public.

Mr Dismore told MPs how, as a personal injury lawyer, he acted for families bereaved in the 1987 Kings Cross fire and inspected what was left of the tube station three days afterwards.

"Nothing I'd previously experienced could have prepared me for the sights and smells of the fire's devastation that I encountered there," said the MP for Hendon.

"As I took statements from victims, distraught relatives, firefighters and tube staff and as I sat day after day through the public inquiry hearing over and over again of the failures of the senior management of London Underground Ltd, it struck me as absolutely outrageous that neither the company nor any of its managers were going to face criminal proceedings over those 31 deaths.

"This was because of the inadequacies of the criminal law."

Those inadequacies also applied to the thousands of workers and members of the public killed in the last decade in individual incidents caused by corporate neglect.

Mr Dismore said the current law of corporate manslaughter was weighted against small "one man band" firms because if no individual person could be found guilty a whole firm escaped, even if its culture was steeped in negligence.

The bill received a formal first reading but has no chance of becoming law without government support.

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