Manager accused over seven deaths

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An architect wept in court yesterday as a jury was told that her negligent failure to maintain an ageing air conditioning system caused the deaths of seven people in Britain's worst outbreak of legionnaires' disease.

An architect wept in court yesterday as a jury was told that her negligent failure to maintain an ageing air conditioning system caused the deaths of seven people in Britain's worst outbreak of legionnaires' disease.

Gillian Beckingham, 45, the technical and design services manager at Barrow Borough Council who is accused of unlawful killing, was in charge of the air conditioning unit at the town's Forum 28 arts centre when it sprayed the bacteria into a public throughfare used daily by hundreds of people. More than 200 were infected.

Alistair Webster QC, for the prosecution, said the deaths were "caused by negligence so gross that it was criminal". The jury at Preston Crown Court heard that air conditioning systems were "an almost perfect breeding ground for the legionella bacteria", but Ms Beckingham, 45, had cancelled a contract to ensurethe system was chemically cleaned and regularly tested.

Ms Beckingham denies breaching health and safety laws and unlawful killing. The case continues today.