Recycling firm charged with
corporate manslaughter

28 July 2020

West Midlands Police have announced that Alutrade Limited, a specialist recycler of aluminium, is to be charged with corporate manslaughter over the death of Stuart Towns in July 2017. The last conviction of a company for corporate manslaughter was in 2017.
 

In order for a company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter the prosecution must prove:

  1. That the company owed a duty of care to the deceased, as a matter of law. The duty which an employer owes to its employees is a typical example;
  2. That there was a gross breach of this duty of care;
  3. That a substantial element of that breach must have been a result of the way in which the company’s activities were managed or organised by its senior management; and
  4. That the breach caused the death.

There have been relatively few convictions for corporate manslaughter since the introduction of the statutory offence in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, particularly in recent years; no company has been convicted of the offence since September 2017. Since the introduction of the offence there have been around 40 corporate manslaughter prosecutions and 25 convictions.

There are various reasons that may explain the relatively low number of prosecutions and the reduction in recent years.

First, it can be difficult to prove to the necessary standard that a gross breach of a duty of care is attributable to the actions of senior management, particularly in an organisation of any size.

Second, the police, who are responsible for investigating cases of suspected corporate manslaughter, are typically unfamiliar with both the law and these types of investigations into industrial accidents. This can mean that cases are turned over to the Health and Safety Executive at an early stage for consideration of alternative health and safety offences. Alternative charges in respect of workplace fatalities can be bought under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, where neither causation nor the involvement of senior management needs to be established.

Finally, since new sentencing guidance in 2016, there has been a general increase in financial penalties for companies convicted of health and safety offences. It may be that there is increasingly a sense that corporate manslaughter is required for only the most serious fatal cases.

Three of Alutrade’s directors have also been individually charged with gross negligence manslaughter. To be convicted of this offence the prosecution must prove:

  1. That they owed a duty of care to the victim;
  2. That they were in breach of that duty;
  3. That the breach of duty caused death; and
  4. That the defendant's conduct was so bad in all the circumstances as to amount, in the jury's opinion, to a crime.

The first hearing of the charges in respect of Mr Towns’ death is scheduled for 23 September 2020. 

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.

 

About the authors

Jonathan Grimes is a Partner in the criminal litigation team who specialises in serious and complex criminal cases. He represents individuals and organisations in all areas of financial services and business crime as well as health and safety and related areas. He leads the firm’s cross practice Health Safety and Environment Group. He has acted in numerous cases involving allegations of financial wrongdoing and has experience of investigations by HSE, SFO, FCA, HMRC, CMA, NCA and the police as well as a number of foreign investigative authorities.

Christopher Boughton is a Trainee Solicitor. He is currently in his fourth seat in the Criminal Litigation team. Prior to joining Kingsley Napley, Christopher worked as a Paralegal for Joseph Hage Aaronson LLP, working on commercial and corporate tax disputes. Christopher has also worked as a project coordinator for an insurance law firm and an international educational charity.

 

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