'Get tough on firms that kill'

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

Companies should be charged with a newly created offence of "corporate killing" if their gross carelessness and incompetence results in death, under proposals published yesterday by an influential law body.

The Law Commission's callfollows a series of disasters in which corporations were deemed to be seriously at fault, but were not successfully prosecuted. Examples given by the commission included the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise ferry capsize in which 187 people died; the 1988 Piper Alpha oil platform explosion, which killed 167; and the 1988 Clapham rail crash, which killed 35.

The commission said firms convicted of "corporate killing" should be liable to an unlimited fine and ordered to take action to ensure the accident is not repeated. The Home Office is to consider the report, Involuntary Manslaughter. Labour said it would introduce the offence at the first opportunity.

The commission said the main reason for the lack of successful prosecutions against firms was that prosecutions for corporate manslaughter can for now be brought only where one person can be identified as the company's "controlling mind" and said to have unlawfully caused the deaths. This has been extremely difficult. There have been only four prosecutions in Britain of a corporation for manslaughter and just one resulted in a conviction. Peter Kite and his company OLL Ltd were both found guilty of manslaughter in December 1994 after the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy in which four children died. Kite was jailed for three years and the firm fined pounds 60,000.