Lion Steel Limited – the third company in the UK to be convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act – has been fined £480,000 with costs of £84,000.

The fine, which is the highest so far under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, is payable up to 30 September 2015, with the costs payable within two years.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings became the first company to be convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2008 last year and was fined £385,000. A Northern Ireland firm, JMW Farms Limited (Co. Armagh) was fined £187,500, plus £13,000 costs in May following the death of a farm worker.

Lion Steel, a Cheshire-based storage manufacturer, pleaded guilty to the offence following a three-week long trial at Manchester Crown Court in relation to the death of 45-year-old employee Steven Berry, who suffered fatal injuries when he fell through a fragile roof panel at the firm’s site on Johnson Brook Road in May 2008.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had intended to prosecute the company on the corporate manslaughter charge in a separate trial to be heard following the conclusion of the charges of gross negligence manslaughter and failing to ensure the health and safety of their employees under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

However, on 2 July, the judge ordered that gross negligence manslaughter charges against two company directors, Richard Williams and Graham Coupe, be dropped and the prosecution then dropped all remaining charges against the individuals and HSWA charge against Lion Steel, and the company entered a guilty plea to the Corporate Manslaughter charge.

Comments Rob Castledine, Associate Director at Workplace Law:

“This latest fine brings it more in line with the Sentencing Guidelines Council which has said a fine should ‘seldom be less than £500,000 and may be measured in millions’.

“It is also worth noting that a successful prosecution under the HSWA 1974 wouldn’t be nearly as much as half a million, as a typical fine would run to around a fifth of that, which sends a message out that the authorities’ preferred punishment route should be that of Corporate Manslaughter.

“However, there’s still some uncertainty as to circumstances whereby Corporate Manslaughter is applicable and when health and safety legislation such as the HSWA will be invoked.

“For example, in the recent case of Bassetlaw District Council, following the death of a pensioner when a reversing bin lorry struck his mobility scooter, the council was charged under Section 3(1) of the HSWA 1974 – not the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

“With Lion Steel, they appear to have taken a shotgun approach regarding the health and safety offences and thrown a number of charges at them, knowing that they just need one to stick for a successful conviction.

“It’s also interesting to note that in the end Lion Steel entered a guilty plea to the Corporate Manslaughter charge and the remaining charges against the three directors and the company itself were then either dismissed by the Judge or dropped. Perhaps this indicates a preference for the authorities to convict the legal ‘entity’ i.e. the organisation, rather than individuals.

“As with the Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings case there doesn’t seem to be any more clarity in the application of the legislation.”