Corporate Manslaughter charges announced in relation to Bosley Mill explosion

Yesterday, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that a company called Wood Treatment Ltd has been charged with four offences of corporate manslaughter contrary to section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the ‘Act’) in relation to the Bosley Mill explosion. The charges relate to an explosion and fire on Friday 17th July 2015 at Bosley Mill, Cheshire, which led to the deaths of four employees and injuries to a number of others. The incident, which has been described as a ‘disaster waiting to happen’, has also resulted in a director being charged with four counts of gross negligence manslaughter and offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Two managers have also been charged with health and safety offences. The CPS said ‘“these decisions were made following a careful review of all of the evidence presented to us by Cheshire Police as a result of their lengthy and complex joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive.”

It has taken four years and nearly four months from the date of the deaths for charges to be brought which is longer than normal. On average, it takes about three years and one month from the date of a death for a corporate manslaughter case to be decided in court. Most corporate manslaughter cases under the Act have only involved a single fatality. The only other case to relate to as many corporate manslaughter charges was that of MNS Mining Ltd in 2014, but that resulted in acquittal.

The announcement comes only 8 days after the CPS stated that it would not be bringing charges in relation to the Croydon tram crash case. As mentioned in my blog post last week, there has been a dearth of convictions for corporate manslaughter in 2019. We will have to wait to see if Bosley Mill will follow the pattern of recent acquittals, or result in a resounding conviction. Keep checking in for further updates.

No corporate manslaughter charges in Croydon tram crash case

Seven people were killed in November 2016 when a tram derailed near to Sandilands tram stop in South London. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced this week that corporate manslaughter charges will not be brought against Transport for London or the operator of the tram, Tram Operations Ltd and that no gross negligence manslaughter charge will be brought against the driver. The announcement has been met with dismay by family members of the deceased, but prosecutors have said that there was no evidence to support a corporate manslaughter prosecution. The CPS stated “there is no evidence that any of the companies was guilty of gross organisational failures that caused the deaths of those who died in this incident, as would be required for this offence to be made out. No defects were discovered in either the tram or the tram track that could have accounted for the derailment. It is clear from the evidence that the sole cause of this tragic incident was the driver losing awareness and control of his driving task.” Indeed, the official report into the accident concluded that the likely explanation for the accident was that the driver fell asleep at the controls. There was no evidence that this was the result of the shift pattern that the driver was required to work though. Nor was there any compelling evidence that the driver had done anything in particular to affect his concentration levels.

The threshold to achieve a conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is high. It requires the prosecution to prove that the organisation organised or managed its activities in a way which caused the person’s death and that this amounted to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to the deceased (section 1(1)). Further, an organisation is only guilty of an offence if the way in which the organisation’s activities were managed or organised by its senior management was a substantial element in the breach (section 1(3)). Clearly, the gross breach and senior management elements of the offence could not be proven in this case which has led to the decision not to prosecute.

In August, I noted in the Company Lawyer (available through Westlaw) that there has been a lack of convictions for corporate manslaughter this year. See Victoria Roper, ‘Grenfell Charge Delays Understandable, but where have all the Corporate Manslaughter Prosecutions Gone?’, (2019) 40(8) The Company Lawyer 265. In next week’s blog I will discuss the various corporate manslaughter acquittals this year, which have no doubt made the CPS more cautious than ever to ensure prosecutions are only brought where they believe there is sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

Hello and Welcome

Searching for information about corporate manslaughter cases? Struggling to find the information you need? Don’t worry, I felt exactly the same when I started teaching corporate manslaughter as part of my undergraduate Company Law module in 2013. That’s why I created this website and blog. It is designed to be a one-stop shop for everything relating to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. You can find detailed information about corporate manslaughter cases and links to useful publications and other resources. Whether you are a practitioner, academic or student, I hope you find it useful.

Best wishes

Victoria Roper, Northumbria University