Classic case studies

No.6 - R. v Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Limited

Ten cases every consulting engineer should know

R. v Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Limited [2012] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 26

In summary

This decision marked the first conviction for a corporate entity for Corporate Manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (‘the Act’).


The case against Cotswold followed the death of an employee who had been obtaining soil samples from the bottom of a 3.5m trial pit. It was not disputed that it had been dangerous for the employee to enter the pit. The jury heard that the walls of the trial pit were unsupported and that soil had collapsed into the pit killing the employee.

The issue was whether there had been a breach of duty by Cotswold so gross so as to amount to an offence under the Act. 

The prosecution’s case was that Cotswold had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the employee from an unsafe system of work in digging trial pits which were unnecessarily dangerous, and that they had ignored well recognised industry guidance that prohibited entry into excavations more than 1.2m deep. The employee had also been left unsupervised on site at the time of the accident. 

To secure conviction the prosecution needed to demonstrate that:

  1. Cotswold’s conduct had caused the employee’s death and amounted to a gross breach of its duty of care to an employee (section 1(1) of the Act);
  2. A substantial element of the breach was in the way in which the organisation’s senior management had managed or organised its activities (section 1(3) of the Act). 

The court held that: 

Cotswold was guilty of Corporate Manslaughter and was sentenced to a fine of £385,000 payable over ten years at a rate of £38,500 per year. 

The fine was wholly beyond the means of the company and Cotswold appealed contending that the fine was excessive and would force the company into liquidation.

The appeal was dismissed on the basis that it was plainly foreseeable that the way in which Cotswold conducted its operations could cause serious injury or death. 

Cotswold illustrates the importance for businesses to have a health and safety culture and to ensure that everyone takes on the responsibility of improving health and safety. 

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