Manslaughter charges sought on work deaths

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The Independent Online
The families of three West Midlands men who died in workplace accidents yesterday asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider pressing manslaughter charges against the employers.

Richard Meeran, their solicitor, said documents were being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and local police forces. He said he also intended to apply for judicial review of the responsibilities of the Health and Safety Executive, which he claimed failed to thoroughly investigate workplace deaths and refer cases for criminal investigation.

Almost 500 people are killed at work every year, but only one company director has been charged with manslaughter in the last 30 years. The HSE usually opts to charge companies for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The deaths of Darren Wall, Reginald Price and Dennis Clarke are included in The Perfect Crime?, a new report by the West Midlands Health and Safety Advice Centre, which claims more than 60 company directors escape manslaughter charges every year following deaths in the workplace.

Its conclusions are backed by Anthony Scrivener QC, who argues that investigating authorities do not press manslaughter charges because it would cost too much time and money. The report was the basis of a Cutting Edge Special last night on Channel 4.

Mr Wall, 22, died in 1991 after being crushed to death under four tons of frozen meat at Central Cold Storage in Walsall. The company was fined pounds 3,000 for breaching health and safety regulations.

Mr Price, a father of five, was killed in 1990 when a 22- foot steel section crashed into his crane cabin at Dudley Tubes in Bilston. The company was fined pounds 2,000.

Dennis Clarke, 21, died in 1992 after being overcome by toxic fumes from trichloroethylene, a cleaning agent he was using on a degreasing tank at Nuttall, a factory in Dudley. The company was fined pounds 30,000.

The programme claimed that local authority inspectors failed to discover crucial evidence in the cases, including previous injuries and deaths in similar circumstances and staff claims of dangerous practices, poor training and inadequate safety equipment.

Reginald Price's wife, Brenda, said yesterday: 'I am delighted something is happening. I was beginning to think no one cared, that if you were a crane driver somehow your life did not matter.'

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said experience had shown that manslaughter prosecutions in areas of HSE jurisdiction rarely succeeded.