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JUDGE BRANDS PROSECUTION DELAY ‘DISGRACEFUL’

Major construction industry players face trial as contractor pleads guilty

The Liverpool Echo has reported that the parents of a welder who died on a construction site will have their seven-year wait for answers ended after a judge branded the delay “disgraceful”.

The death of Christopher Heaton, aged 25, occurred on a Manchester apartments project in April 2004 when he fell  more than 25m from scaffolding during work carried out by Shawton Engineering Ltd.

The company has now pleaded guilty to health and safety offences at Liverpool Crown Court. It was alleged that the company failed to ensure safe systems of work for Christopher and a co-worker.

Amec Group Ltd and Buro Happold Ltd are also said to be charged with offences and will face trial next year after Judge Nigel Gilmour ordered for defence statements to be served in January 2011.  The judge added: “There is a quite disgraceful delay in this prosecution.”

Comment

Delay in concluding health and safety investigations and any subsequent criminal proceedings is a cause of concern to many parties. It is vital for justice that the entire process is concluded as swiftly as possible. 

The relatives of those who have died at work seek explanations, justice or closure whilst witnesses want relief from the stress and anxiety that comes from waiting to give evidence. 

The greatest delay usually occurs where a death is involved although even some non-fatal accidents have taken over 5 years from incident to commencement of proceedings.

Where a death is involved the process is inevitably protracted. The police will first consider manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. If there is insufficient evidence for a manslaughter prosecution a further investigation and consideration will be carried out by HSE. In addition, an inquest will need to be concluded.

The causes of delay are various and include: 

  1. HSE, Police, CPS and Coroner inefficiency during the investigation, inquiry and decision making process. The way in which these parties cooperate is improving but poor organisation and collaboration on their part is still a major cause of delay; 
  2. Defence team induced delay leading to excessive time between instigation and conclusion of proceedings; and 
  3. Court induced delay arising from the inefficiencies of the justice system in managing and concluding health and safety prosecutions.  

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