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The BBC's Carole Walker
"This is a complicated and sensitive issue"
 real 28k

Andrew Dismore MP
"The courts need more powers"
 real 28k

David Bergman of Centre for Corporate Accountability
"Companies should be held responsible"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Tough penalties for 'corporate killers'
Last year's fatal train crash in west London
Paddington crash: 31 killed, no-one charged
The government intends to change the law on corporate manslaughter to make it easier to prosecute companies for management failures that lead to death.

Detailed proposals will be spelt out by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, when he launches a consultation on the changes in Parliament on Tuesday.

The Herald of Free Enterprise passenger ferry sank after its bow doors were left open
187 people died in the 1987 Zeebrugge ferry disaster
The Law Commission recommended a change in the law four years ago and the government has faced growing demands for change following a number of disasters since then.

Ministers have already announced similiar intentions twice since Labour came to power in 1997.

Earlier in May, there was fierce public criticism when the Director of Public Prosecutions revealed that no-one could be prosecuted for the Paddington train crash which claimed 31 lives in 1999.

And last summer Great Western Trains was cleared of manslaughter charges over the 1997 Southall crash in which seven people died and 150 were injured.

There have only been three successful prosecutions for corporate manslaughter in British legal history.

In 1996 the Law Commission suggested a new law of corporate killing in which company directors could be held individually responsible for certain management failings.

Delicate issues

That would make them liable to unlimited fines and force them to remedy the relevant failures.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore, a former personal injuries lawyer who worked on the Kings Cross fire, welcomed the government's move.

His own Bill to create a charge of corporate homicide has already made one appearance before the Commons.

Mr Dismore told the BBC: "It is only by putting the senior people in court that they will take safety seriously.

"They should have imprisonment and heavy fines and the courts must have the power to make companies put right the failings that caused the accident in the first place, again backed by very severe penalties if they don't."

David Bergman, director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability, welcomed the government's decision but warned that failing to make directors personally liable would make it "easy for them to wriggle out of responsibility".

Union backing

On Monday, union leaders called for the introduction of a law of corporate killing to crack down on "callous or ignorant" employers in charge of dangerous workplaces.

Although deaths at work have plunged by 90% since 1974, an average of five people are killed every week at work, the TUC reported.

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: "If company directors knew they faced a possible jail sentence, they might take a bit more notice and introduce safer working practices to their businesses."

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