Cotswold Geotechnic Holdings has become the first company to be convicted of the new offence of corporate manslaughter. The prosecution brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) follows the death of Alex Wright, aged 27 years, in September 2008 in a trench collapse on a development site in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Cotswold Geotechnic Holdings were sentenced on Thursday 18 February 2011.

“Alex Wright was a young man of talent with a promising career,” said Mr Justice Field, presiding judge on the western circuit. Imposing a fine of £385,000 to be paid over ten years, he said: “The impact of the fine on a company cannot be the determining factor as to the level. The fine must be fixed at a level which reflects the gravity of the offence, and sends out a clear message both generally and to those in the contraction and excavation businesses.

“The Sentencing Guidance Council says that generally fines for corporate manslaughter should be no less than £500,000, however there are individual circumstances and factors.”

Neal Stone, director of policy and research commented: “The worth of lives lost in workplace accidents are incalculable. Both the jury in convicting Cotswold Geotechnic Holdings of the corporate manslaughter of Alex Wright and Mr Justice Field in imposing a fine of £385,000 were clear that the company had been grossly negligent. Were it not for the parlous state of the company’s finances the fine would rightly have been considerably greater and more closely in line with sentencing guidelines.

Whether the sentence in this case, which has taken over two years to reach a conclusion, will spur the non-compliant and reckless to abide by the law remains to be seen. Fines have an important part in play in deterring others from breaking the law.

We should remember the family of Alex Wright who are still grieving and will forever feel his loss.

As for Peter Eaton, the principal and director of the guilty company, we would ask no more than a public admission by him that his gross neglect caused a needless death. He could, if he was so minded, be an example to others of the human cost of needlessly getting it wrong.”

Mr Wright, a geologist for Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, was investigating soil conditions in a deep trench when it collapsed and killed him. Kate Leonard, reviewing lawyer from the CPS Special Crime Division, said: “Alex Wright was a young man, full of promise. His death is a tragedy for all those who loved him and would never have happened if Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings had properly protected him. I hope that this conviction offers his family some sense of justice. I send them my sincere condolences once again.”