Police and social services may be exempt from death-in-custody Bill

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The police and other official bodies could escape prosecution for the death of people in police custody, army barracks or prison or local authority care, if exemptions to a new Bill are agreed this week.

The Corporate Manslaughter Bill will make companies liable for prosecution if they fail to ensure the safety of workers or the public.

But civil liberties campaigners warn that the list of exemptions, if agreed, will allow many government bodies to escape prosecution for gross negligence.

They fear that under the Bill there would have been no redress for the family of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié, who died following the failure of social services to intervene in her case, or for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian who was shot by the police on the London Underground last year after being mistakenly identified as a terrorist suspect.

Exemptions in the Bill would also mean that prison services and young offenders' institutes would not be liable for deaths in custody, such as that of Zahid Mubarek, 19, who was killed by a racist cellmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution.

The civil liberties group Liberty said: "These exemptions give the impression that the Government has listed all of the circumstances where the gross negligence of state bodies could cause death and has asked its lawyers to provide a get-out clause for every one of them."

The Bill creates a new offence of corporate manslaughter where death occurred because of a management failure.

It also removes Crown immunity for public bodies and makes the Government accountable where management failings on its part lead to a death. But it sets out a list of functions under which public bodies can be exempt.