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Corporate manslaughter cases set to rise across UK.

Byline: By John Cranage Business Staff

After the owner of a fireworks depot and his son were recently committed to trial accused of the manslaughter of two firefighters, experts have warned of a dramatic rise in the number of corporate manslaughter cases heard in the UK as a result of new legislation.

The prediction was made by workplace information specialist Croner and it followed the deaths of firefighters Geoffrey Wicker and Brian Wembridge while tackling a blaze at the fireworks depot near Ringmer, East Sussex, in December 2006.

Twelve other people were injured in the explosions and blaze, including nine other fire-fighters and a police officer.

Martin and Nathan Winter, a father and son operating Alpha Fireworks, appeared at Lewes Magistrates Court earlier this month to answer charges of unlawfully killing the two men.

They made no plea and their case was referred for trial at Lewes Crown Court later this month.

They're also accused of breaching regulations relating to the manufacture and storage of the fireworks.

In a guide published by Croner on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into effect in April, specialists predict a significant increase in the number of firms a year being prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.

Norman Selwyn, an authority on employment law, said: "It is now estimated that there are likely to be about a dozen or so corporate manslaughter prosecutions each year and that the clarification of the law will more than likely lead to these being successful.

"In the past it's only been possible to prosecute small companies, because you could actually identify the managing director and the company as being one and the same thing. You couldn't prosecute a large company because there was no controlling mind.

"Now the playing field is level because large companies and small companies are all in the firing line - government departments, local authorities can all be prosecuted under this act."

But while he forecast a rise in company prosecutions under the Act, he criticised the legislation for not going far enough by failing to create a new offence for individual directors who control large corporations.

"The inability of the law to cope with manslaughter charges against all but smaller companies has long been a source of disappointment to proactive campaigners for change.

But the Corporate Manslaughter Act is by no means perfect. It is strange that it does not place specific health and safety duties on company directors," Mr Selwyn added.

Peter Power, a specialist in crisis management and a member of the reference group to the UK Commission on national security, said: "The pressure on directors of all corporations to move their attitude towards a culture of safety will come from their stakeholders - shareholders, customers, suppliers, regulators, business partners, employees - as well as the law.

"It is all about up-to-date corporate resilience. It is unacceptable that companies and their directors should learn only from their own mistakes as we used to do in the past.

Driving any organisation forward in 2008 depends less on the rear view mirror and more on the road ahead."

Croner's Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide 2007: A Guide outlines the significant changes in the law that came into effect in April and steers companies through the legislation and their corporate responsibilities, while interpreting the new law with contributions from experts.

Croner says the Act establishes a wider basis of liability by looking at the way companies organise and run their activities, focusing on management failure rather than the failings of individuals. In the past, proving corporate manslaughter has been notoriously difficult.

Now companies found guilty can face unlimited fines.

Croner executive director Martin Smith said: "Every company now has a legal responsibility to monitor its activities and management practices to ensure the correct systems are in place to protect health and safety. Those systems should be constantly reviewed with lines of communication between directors and staff always open so that concerns can be raised and properly addressed.

"Our authors are recognised experts in corporate manslaughter, health and safety and employment law as well as crisis management.

This will become the definitive guide to the subject, giving clear and concise advice for company directors and their advisers on how the new law should be complied with."

For more information go to or call 020 8247 1630.


The Festival Fireworks aftermath in East Sussex, following a blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters. A corporate manslaughter case could set a precedent
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 27, 2008
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