High Court rejects CPS ruling on crane death

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The Independent Online

The family of a casual worker killed while helping to unload a ship yesterday won a High Court battle forcing the Director of Public Prosecutions to reconsider a decision not to bring manslaughter charges against his employers.

Lord Justice Buxton, sitting with Mr Justice Moses,quashed the Crown Prosecution Service decision, describing it as irrational. The judges also ruled that the CPS had failed to give sufficient reasons to back up its decision and said it had not "properly addressed the law". The case, the first successful judicial review over the CPS's failure to bring corporate manslaughter charges against a company director, is expected to open the door for a review of dozens of similar cases.

After yesterday's judgment David Bergman, the director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability, said that it was now calling for reconsideration of the CPS decision not to prosecute a director of Great Western Trains in relation to the Southall train crash.

Yesterday's case involved Simon Jones, 24, a Sussex University student, who died after his head was partly severed while working for the Dutch-owned firm Euromin at Shoreham docks, West Sussex, on 24 April 1998 within two hours of starting his new job. A crane's grab bucket suddenly closed, crushing his neck while he was in the hold of the ship attaching bags of cobblestones to hooks welded inside the grab.

Although the safety instruction of the crane manufacturer warned that it was not safe for anyone to be within the work area of the grab Mr Jones's job meant that his head was close to the grab. On this occasion the jaws of the grab closed around his neck, killing him instantly.

Immediately after the accident the crane driver and Euromin's general manager, James Martell, were arrested but released without charge. In September last year, the CPSlooked afresh at the case against the company and its director after a judge gave Mr Jones's family permission to bring the legal challenge.

Yesterday, the court heardthat the CPS had concluded that Mr Martell was "negligent in his failure to set in place a safe system of work" and that was sufficient for a prosecution under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

But more was required to establish convictions for "gross negligence" and manslaughter. The CPS's evidence to the court was that the case against Mr Martell "was not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of satisfying a jury that he was guilty of gross negligence".

Delivering his ruling, Lord Justice Buxton said: "The relevant law has not been properly addressed in this case." He added: "The court can't assume that the decision that there was no realistic prospect of conviction was not irrational." The judge awarded costs against the CPS.