Corporate manslaughter threat to BNFL after worker falls to his death at Windscale

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BNFL may be facing corporate manslaughter charges over the death of a contractor working on the decommissioning of the old Windscale plant, next door to Sellafield.

Neil Cannon was killed earlier this year when he fell inside one of the chimneys at Windscale, the first nuclear fuel-producing site to be built in the UK.

Mr Cannon was working for a demolition contractor, PC Richardsons, under the management of BNFL.

The two Windscale chimneys, known as Piles - built in the 1940s - have been closed since 1957, when a fire broke out at the plant. A gas-cooled nuclear reactor continued operating until 1981, but the site itself has not been used for more than 20 years.

Only recently has BNFL started decommissioning the site under a contract from the UK Atomic Energy Authority. It dismantled one of the chimneys last year and started work on the second this year. It was in that chimney, damaged in the 1957 fire, that the accident occurred.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has conducted an investigation and has passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). An HEA spokesman said it has completed its investigation, but because there was a possibility of a manslaughter charge, this was now with the CPS.

A CPS spokesman said: "We are looking at whether the concept of corporate manslaughter can apply in this case, along with any other possible criminal offences we are responsible for." It is understood the CPS is waiting for the completion of a police investigation into the incident before deciding whether to proceed.

Even if the CPS does not prosecute, it is likely that BNFL will face charges relating to breaches of Health and Safety rules. A BNFL spokesman said the HSE investigation was a matter of course and it was normal procedure for it to pass its files to the CPS in this situation.

BNFL is hoping to take a lead role in the contracts for dealing with the effects of 40 years of Britain's nuclear programme, which will be awarded by the Nuclear Decomm- issioning Authority.