Gross Negligence Manslaughter
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Why the owner of a company got a 7 year prison sentence for an accident he was not directly involved in.

News of a horrendous lorry crash in Bath in 2015 was hard to miss.  Four innocent bystanders were killed, one a small girl, when a lorry’s brakes failed and the lorry careered out of control down a hill.  At the end of last month, that particular story ended with the owner of the lorry haulage company and his mechanic receiving lengthy prison sentences for the crime of gross negligence manslaughter.  The driver of the lorry was cleared of wrongdoing.

What went wrong?

It was clear that both men owed a duty of care to the public in relation to the haulage company’s vehicles.  The owner, Matthew Gordon, was described as putting his commercial concerns before safety. He did not comply with the conditions of his vehicle operator’s licence, which included regular and effective vehicle safety checks. He did not employ a transport manager and it was said after the trial that he effectively flouted every regulation put in place to ensure the safety of his vehicles.

He admitted that he was someone who ‘used to stay away from paperwork’.

Why the lengthy prison sentence?

No-one is suggesting that Matthew Gordon or his mechanic intended to cause the deaths of the four innocent people who were killed, or intended that the lorry would suffer brake failure.  However, this lack of intent does not take away their responsibility for this devastating accident.

The problem and the reason for the heavy sentence was their casual attitude towards safety checks on the vehicle and the repeated failures to prioritise safety and assess properly or maintain the vehicle’s brakes.  They were both found guilty of breaching their duty of care to the public in a way which caused death and injury, and have faced the ultimate of severe consequences by being sent to prison.

A stark warning for us all

For all owners of businesses that use transport this story serves as a stark warning that continued failures to make regular and effective checks on the safety of vehicles can lead to very serious consequences for those in positions of responsibility.

It also serves as a useful reminder that, as an employer, you need to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare not just of your employees, but also others that might be affected by the operations of your business, including members of the public.

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