Skip to main content

PS & JE Ward corporate manslaughter trial commences

The corporate manslaughter trial of PS & JE Ward Limited has commenced at Norwich Crown Court.

The corporate manslaughter trial of PS & JE Ward Limited has commenced at Norwich Crown Court. The King's Lynn based flower nursery company was charged with corporate manslaughter following the death of one of its employees in July 2010 who died as a result of a electric shock when the lift trailer of his tractor came into contact with an overhead power line at Belmont Nursery.

This is the eighth corporate manslaughter case to come before the Courts since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in April 2008. The trial is running at the same time as that of MNS Mining Limited, a company charged with corporate manslaughter following the deaths of four miners at a South Wales Colliery in 2011.

It has been alleged by the prosecution that PS & JE Ward put profit before safety, and that systemic failures at a senior level within the company led to the employee's death. In particular, there are accusations of failing to provide suitable instructions to employees whose first language is not English, contrary to HSE requirements, and failing to control trees growing around power line poles, meaning that danger signs were not visible.     

In deciding whether there has been a gross breach of the company's duties, the jury must first consider whether the evidence before them demonstrates a failure to comply with health and safety legislation. The jury must then consider how serious any failure was, how much of a risk of death the failure posed and also whether there were "attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices" which either caused the failure, or meant that non-compliance with health and safety legislation was tolerated within the business.

Although there have been few prosecutions to date, there is evidence that the CPS is picking up pace in bringing prosecutions for corporate manslaughter. The commencement of this trial, and that of MNS Mining, serves as a reminder that employers must ensure that they have in place robust policies and procedures for health and safety and that these policies are reflected in practice ‘on the ground' and every day.