Corporate manslaughter fines

Companies and organisations convicted of corporate manslaughter could face fines up to millions of pounds under new guidelines that have been published.

The guidance, drawn up by The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), states that those found guilty of corporate manslaughter should rarely face fines under £500,000.

Other health and safety offences that cause death should command fines which start at £100,000, it said.

The guidelines said the level of fine should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders and directors, nor consider the cost of complying with other sanctions.

However, the financial circumstances of the offending firm should be taking into account when deciding the level of fine, as should the effect on the firm’s employees and provision of services to the public, the SGC said.

Factors such as the forseeability of serious injury, whether non-compliance was common and widespread in the firm, and how high up the company responsibility for the breach went, could increase the seriousness of the offence, it said.

The guidelines come into effect from 15 February.

Charity fined over stabbed graduate

A young mental health worker stabbed to death during her probationary period was failed by her charity employer, a court has ruled, fining the organisation £50,000.

Mental Health Matters admitted it failed to protect Northumbria University graduate Ashleigh Ewing, who was killed by paranoid schizophrenic Ronald Dixon just under four years ago.

The 22-year-old was visiting the patient in his home when she was attacked, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

The charity pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations. It was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.

The judge Mr Justice Keith said: “The fact that a life has tragically been lost is a fact which must be reflected in the level of the fine. But it goes without saying that nothing can compensate for the loss of Ashleigh’s life, which is of course precious.”

Psychology graduate Miss Ewing, who was from Hebburn, South Tyneside, was visiting Dixon’s home in Eighth Avenue, Heaton, as part of her work with the Sunderland-based charity. The former Hebburn Comprehensive pupil was alone on the last day of her six-month probation period when she was attacked.

Dixon, who later admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, stabbed her 39 times using four different kitchen knives.

Secret report reveals university buildings could breach fire regulations

A ‘secret’ database showing the poor condition of many university halls of residence and non-residential buildings – including in some cases those deemed ‘inoperable’ because they are in breach of fire regulations – has been published by the Guardian newspaper.

The database has been the subject of a two-year legal tussle by the newspaper, which ended when an information tribunal ruled that it was in the public interest to release the data.

The information – held by the Higher Education Funding Council for England – reveals that scores of university halls of residence and other buildings were judged “at serious risk of major failure or breakdown” and “unfit for purpose”. At the most extreme, these buildings could break fire regulations, have leaks and be subject to rot.

According to the Guardian, the database shows that more than 90% of higher education establishments had at least 10% of their building stock judged below the “sound and operationally safe” category”. One in 10 institutions had at least 10% of their estate categorised as inoperable and at serious risk of major breakdown.

Universities respond saying they have invested many millions of pounds in their buildings since the assessments were made two years ago.

Insurance claims soar as potholes take their toll

An estimated 40% increase in road damage from the recent severe weather has pushed the number of potholes in the UK up to one and a half million, according to motoring organisation, the AA.

It warns that claims against local highway authorities and insurance companies are expected to soar way above normal – last year councils paid out £65m in compensation.

AA insurance reports it has received more than three times as many claims for pothole damage this February than last. Most claims concern damage to wheels, particularly alloy wheels shod with low-profile tyres.

However, potholes can also appear on pavements or footways, so landlords and property managers are being warned to ensure that external walkways and car parks are not subject to holes or cracks following the severe weather.

Organisations must always ensure that any necessary repairs and maintenance of external premises are given the same priority as indoor areas.

In one HSE documented case, following repairs to a leaking pipe, a hole was left in a busy hospital walkway for many months. A catering assistant tripped on the dug-up walkway and fell into the hole. Her injuries meant she needed months off work.

Workers had repeatedly reported the hole, including the fact that there had been several minor accidents. But the maintenance department had decided to delay the repair so that several jobs could be ‘batched’ together.

Pub company fined for multiple fire-safety breaches

A pub management company has been convicted of breaching fire safety law by North Wiltshire magistrates.

Sitting on 9 February, the magistrates fined Publicana Ltd £5000 for each of four offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. In light of the company’s early guilty plea, however, the total fine was reduced to £15,000. Publicana was also ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs.

The offences came to light after Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service attended an incident at the Little George pub in New Road, Chippenham on 5 October 2008.

An investigation by officers from the Service’s technical fire safety department discovered that fire doors and fire exits had been screwed shut, or left propped open, escape routes were obstructed, and fire-protection systems had not been maintained. Consequently, Publicana Ltd – as the tenant at that time – was charged with failing to carry out or record a fire risk assessment, and failure to have effective protection policies and prevention measures in place.