On 4th February 2016 at Manchester Crown Court, a jury found demolition contractor Alan Thomson, guilty after a trial of gross negligence manslaughter. The jury also convicted a second contractor, Michael Smith, of three offences including endangering the safety of others contrary to s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA). The defendants’ companies, Building and Dismantling Contractors Ltd and C Smith (Rochdale) Ltd had pleaded guilty to health and safety offences at the start of the trial.
The case was prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following the death of demolition worker Scott Harrower who fell 25 ft from the roof of a disused store in Stockport in January 2014. The fatal accident followed an earlier fall on the same day involving another worker at the same site who had suffered ‘life changing’ injuries.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter
The reason that Mr Thomson was charged with gross negligence manslaughter was because the jury found that he was personally grossly negligent for sending both men up to work on the roof with no plan or method statement, inadequate safety equipment and no supervision. The prosecution brought the case on the basis that the case was "entirely avoidable" and that he was clearly responsible for putting profit before safety. The prosecution called witnesses to establish that the safety equipment provided to the men was woefully poor and that the health and safety documentation relating to the site had not been properly prepared as it referred to the dismantling of the building rather than its demolition and therefore the necessary risks associated with demolition work had not been considered or controlled.
Typically, the CPS will prosecute the companies who have a duty of care to the deceased and who were responsible for causing their death, along with the directors and senior managers at the companies for their personal responsibility in causing the accident. We have witnessed a common trend since the implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 of companies offering a plea bargain to the prosecution for corporate manslaughter in return for the prosecution dropping the individual allegations of gross negligence manslaughter and consent, connivance and neglect. However, in this case, it does not appear that such a deal was struck. The new sentencing guidelines for all health and safety offences which came into effect on 1st February 2016 do not provide any guidance for gross negligence manslaughter.
We will provide an update in our May newsletter on the sentences of both directors which is due to take place on 8th April and provide some case analysis with reference to the judge's sentencing remarks.