Manslaughter laws await Hatfield trial

Planned laws on corporate manslaughter could be affected by the outcome of
the case against Network Rail, Balfour Beatty and six managers who have been
charged with manslaughter in connection with the Hatfield rail crash.

Gary Booton, head of health and safety at the Engineering Employers’
Federation, believes the case may have a bearing on proposed new legislation,
announced by Home Secretary David Blunkett last month.

Four people died in the crash and dozens were injured when a broken rail
caused a high-speed GNER train to derail in October 2000.

If found guilty, the six individuals could face life imprisonment and the
two companies could be ordered to pay unlimited fines. Both companies and all
the individuals involved have said they intend to defend themselves against the

Booton said: "I suspect the outcome of this case will have an impact on
what is proposed [in the new legislation]."

He said the problem with bringing a successful prosecution under existing laws
is that before a firm can be convicted of manslaughter, an individual who can
be identified as a ‘controlling mind’ must be shown to be guilty of

This has proved so difficult, given the complex network of responsibilities
in large organisations, that only three companies – all of them small – have
ever been found guilty.

Booton cited the failure to prosecute P&O or any company director
following the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, which resulted in the
death of more than 200 people, even though an inquest jury returned verdicts of
unlawful killing.

Under the proposed corporate killing law, prosecutions could be brought
where a management failure had resulted in one or more deaths, and that failure
is held to constitute conduct falling far below what could be reasonably
expected of an organisation.

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