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    CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER: £500,000 FINE IMPOSED

    Two pedestrians died in basement fall after site hoarding failed

    In May 2016 we reported that Monavon Construction Limited admitted the offence of Corporate Manslaughter in respect of the deaths of two members of the public who fell into the basement of a London building refurbishment project in 2013.

    At a hearing on 27 June 2016 the company were fined £500,000 for the corporate manslaughter offence and £50,000 in respect of an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act Section 3, namely the failure to discharge duty to a non-employee.

    Monavon Construction were responsible for the building site in Netley Street at the junction with Hampstead Road in north west London. Work had been ongoing at the site for approximately three years and construction was nearing conclusion.

    Part of the site bordered Netley Street and plywood hoardings were in place which covered the pavement. On 14 October 2013 work began to change the hoarding so the pavement could be reinstated.

    After the work was completed hoardings were in place measuring approximately 4ft in height, fixed by wooden struts to a wall behind which measured between 130mm to 280mm in height. Behind this wall was a drop of approximately 12ft down into a basement area.

    Negligible force required to make hoarding give way

    Members of the public Gavin Brewer and Stuart Meads were walking in Netley Street in the early hours of the morning. The men were “arguing and scuffling” with one another. When walking past the building site they “made contact” with the hoarding which gave way sending both men falling to their deaths in the basement area.

    The Metropolitan Police launched a joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive. The investigation found that the hoardings had been fixed in such a way that only negligible force would have been required to make them give way.

    Monavon was fined £250,000 each for the deaths of Gavin Brewer and Stuart Meads as well as £50,000 for heath and safety breached. They were also ordered to pay £23,653 prosecution costs.

    Defendant lawyers explain sentencing

    Legal firm DWF who represented the defendant company and has published an article providing an overview of the sentencing hearing which examines the approach taken by the Crown Prosecution Service, review the judges sentencing comments and additional orders imposed. This is published below:

    “Background

    The company was undertaking construction works to a site situated at 107-109 Hampstead Road London. During the works the company had put in place site perimeter edge protection around a light well that was yet to have metal railings fixed around it. In the early hours of the morning on the 19th October 2013, Mr Gavin Brewer and Mr Stuart Meads were in the area.  They were captured on CCTV in the midst of an altercation when one of the men pushed the other, quite forcibly across the road and into the edge protection.  This collapsed and both men fell into the light well, a distance of 3.7 metres and tragically died at the scene.

    Pleas

    The company pleaded guilty to the two counts of Corporate Manslaughter and a breach of section 3(1) Health Safety at Work Act.

    CPS approach

    Within the CPS case there were two aspects which merit comment:

    1.Profit before safety

    In their case summary and sentencing note the prosecution advanced allegations that the company had undertaken cost cutting measures at the expense of safety. Put simply they argued that the company’s failure to put in place Heras fencing and scaffolding within the light well, i.e. to reduce the risk of a fall amounted to “placing profit before safety”.

    The CPS was aware that the company had ample supplies of the fencing and appropriate boards for use as scaffold and the costs of undertaking those steps were negligible. The CPS would not be moved on this aspect during pre-hearing discussions. Even more surprising was the support gained from the HSE to advance the allegation despite a complete lack of evidence.

    The matter was not one which required much in the form of argument from the defence team as HHJ Worsley refused to entertain this rather misconceived submission. He made it clear that the failure to safeguard against the risk was the very breach to which the company had pleaded guilty.

    2. Financial Position of the Company

    Having received the required financial company information, the CPS sought access to further accounts of all linked companies. Such requests were made on the basis that they would allow for an accurate assessment to be made of the company’s financial status.

    In fact the CPS has instructed Forensic Accountants to identify whether any assets of the company had been manipulated or transferred to other linked companies. The CPS pursued this line without demonstrating any basis for suspecting that such a state of affairs might exist.

    The prosecution’s own Forensic Accountants report demonstrated no such position. However during the hearing HHJ Worsley expressly asked the CPS to confirm the reliability of the accounts in this respect.  If that is an indication of what is to come, then companies will need to be aware that this level of scrutiny irrespective of any proper basis will be pursued.

    Sentencing

    HHJ Worsley QC accepted that the risk of injury from falling into an improperly guarded and covered light well was highly foreseeable. The steps that ought to have been taken by the company to safeguard against the risk were straightforward and the failure resulted in the death of two individuals.  This was a category A offence.

    The company were a micro organisation with a turnover of much less than £2 million. In relation to mitigating features HHJ addressed the lack of previous prosecution against the company, a good safety record and the remedial steps taken after the accident.

    Regrettably the Judge gave no explanation as to how he approached the credit that should be awarded to the defendant company for entering guilty pleas and simply applied a reduction of £50,000 for each charge of corporate manslaughter.

    The prosecution had approached the sentencing exercise on the basis that one needed to look separately at both offences and fine for each. The Judge however took the view that he need only concentrate on the more serious offence and then adjust the fine to take into account the lesser offence which had been charged.

    Fine and Publicity Order

    In conclusion the company was fined as follows:-

    • Count 1 Corporate Manslaughter – £250,000
    • Count 2 Corporate Manslaughter – £250,000
    • Count 3 Section 3(1) Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – £50,000

    Fines were to be paid in two years. Costs were additionally awarded in the sum of £23,000 payable in six months

    Notwithstanding the press coverage this case had already received, the Judge imposed a publicity order which is a feature that will become more common in such cases. Rather as an oversight no date for compliance was given for the same”

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