The call for new laws on corporate manslaughter has been revived again after a judge said the current legislation would not allow him to convict track maintenance company Balfour Beatty over its role in the Hatfield rail disaster.
The charges arose following the disaster, when a London to Leeds train derailed at 115mph on 17 October 2000, killing four people. The prosecution alleged that a catalogue of safety lapses had led to the fatal derailment.
But during the hearing this July, Justice Mackay said that, as the law stood, he had no choice but to dismiss charges of corporate manslaughter against Balfour Beatty and five executives employed by balfour Beatty and Railtrack.
“This case continues to underline a long and pressing need for the long-delayed reform of the law in this area of unlawful killing,” he said. “Some will seem lucky to have escaped prosecution.”
The difficulty in gaining a conviction under the present law stems from the onus on the prosecution to prove that criminal acts were committed by the ‘controlling mind’ of the company that had been grossly negligent.
The government promised to introduce a Bill to reform the law in 1997, but is still consulting over its content.
Unions have called for individual criminal liability for executives, but the government has shied away from this in the past.
Bob Crow, general secretary of rail union RMT, said: “When there’s money to be made, there’s no shortage of executives willing to pocket fat bonuses, but when there’s some responsibility to be taken for something going horribly wrong, there’s a deafening chorus of ‘not me, guv’.”