Third Corporate Manslaughter fine imposed

On Friday 20 July 2012, Lion Steel Limited was fined £480,000 with costs of £84,000 under the Corporate Manslaughter Act at Manchester Crown Court in relation to the death of 45-year-old employee, Steven Berry, who suffered fatal injuries when he fell through a fragile roof panel at the firm’s site on Johnson Brook Road in May 2008.

Said Rob Castledine, Associate Director at Workplace Law:

“This latest fine brings it more in line with the Sentencing Guidelines Council which has said a fine should ‘seldom be less than £500,000 and may be measured in millions’.

“It is also worth noting that a successful prosecution under the HSWA 1974 wouldn’t be nearly as much as half a million, as a typical fine would run to around a fifth of that, which sends a message out that the authorities’ preferred punishment route should be that of Corporate Manslaughter.”

However, it has emerged that the prosecution costs were cut by 50% by the judge due to the four years it took to resolve the case, the impact of which upon both the victim’s family and Lion Steel was, as the firm’s solicitor Steffan Groch of DWF noted, “something which the Judge thought was unacceptable on the part of the Prosecution authorities”.

The delay to the case also reflects the fact that Lion Steel is still only the third company in the UK to be convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, despite the legislation coming into force five years ago this month. This is because, says Philip Ryan, Senior Associate at Shoosmiths, of the time it takes to investigate, make decisions, and to prosecute following fatal accidents, “as well as demonstrating the difficulties faced by the police when dealing with fatal accidents and suspected breaches of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007”.

It makes it all the more important, he advises, to obtain independent legal advice for each individual duty-holder at an early stage following a serious or fatal accident where multiple charges may arise, because the police and HSE are increasingly throwing the suspect ‘net’ very wide in the aftermath of fatal incidents.