Company is cleared of manslaughter in killing of student

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The Independent Online

Calls grew for new laws on corporate killing yesterday after a company was cleared of causing the death of a student crushed by a mechanical excavator.

Simon Jones, an anthropology student at Sussex University, was "fit and healthy" when he arrived at 8am for the first day of a holiday job at Shoreham Docks, West Sussex, on 24 April 1998.

The 24-year-old had been sent by an employment agency to work as a labourer unloading stones from a ship, but by 10.15am his head had been crushed in the excavator.

At the Old Bailey yesterday, the docks company Euromin Ltd was found guilty by a jury of two breaches of health and safety regulations and ordered to pay a £50,000 fine and £20,000 costs. But the company and its general manager, Richard Martell, were cleared of a charge of manslaughter.

Police, prosecuting authorities, trade unions and Mr Jones's family demanded a change in the law.

David Calvert-Smith, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: "Employees like Simon Jones should be able to carry out their work in a safe environment free from the fear of death or serious injury."

He said manslaughter by gross negligence, or corporate manslaughter as it is sometimes called, was difficult to prosecute. The main stumbling block is establishing the identity of a "controlling mind" who can be proved to be personally guilty of manslaughter.

The TUC General Secretary, John Monks, said: "We need a new law ... so that corporate responsibility is clear and the penalties are effective."

The decision to prosecute Euromin and Mr Martell came after a ruling in March last year by the Divisional Court that the CPS should reconsider its earlier decision not to prosecute.

Judge Stokes said Euromin's most serious error was its failure to carry out any risk assessment of the machinery. "That was absolutely deplorable – had it been done the death of this young man could have been avoided," he said. He described the excuses given by the company as "lamentably weak".

David Bergman, head of the Centre for Corporate Accountability, said the case proved there was a huge gap in the law and called for a legal duty on company directors to ensure safety. "We are concerned the CPS would use this as an excuse not to investigate all other work-related deaths," he said.