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Ashfords LLP successfully defends gross negligence manslaughter charge in health and safety case

Ashfords LLP’s Ian Manners, supported by Zoe Hunt and Rebecca Ellis, acted for Night & Day Glaziers Ltd and its sole director, Garry Harbutt, in a CPS led prosecution following a fatal accident. Garry Harbutt was acquitted of gross negligence manslaughter following a seven day trial in the Bristol Crown Court.

This is a welcome outcome after a long and protracted criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the tragic death of Garry Harbutt’s father, Arthur Harbutt, following a fall from scaffolding at the Go Outdoors development at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol in March 2018.

The Charges

The CPS, supported by the HSE, brought the prosecution against Garry Harbutt and his company, Night and Day Glaziers Ltd.

The company was charged with a breach of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to which it pleaded guilty on day one of the trial, in doing so accepting that the Company breached its duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all of its employees.

Garry Harbutt was charged with gross negligence manslaughter, an offence which can be punished with up to 18 years’ imprisonment. He was also charged separately of the offence under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 whereby it was alleged that the offence committed by the company was attributable to his neglect. 

Trial Outcome

Clearly, the potential impact of the manslaughter charge in particular was a cause of great concern to Garry Harbutt and his family and exacerbated what was already a difficult time for him following the loss of his father. Nearly four years after the accident, the jury took just three hours to find him not guilty of this offence.

The jury did find Garry Harbutt guilty of the alternative, lesser, health and safety offence. Following the subsequent Sentencing Hearing the court fined the company £31,500 and Garry Harbutt £4,000 in respect of the health and safety offences. 

Conclusions

This case shows that the CPS and other prosecutors continue to take a strong stance on deaths in the workplace, especially where risks are well known to the industry. Even in the case of a small family company, regulators will still consider that the public interest in taking action will outweigh the impact on the family, having regard to the need to demonstrate to the wider industry the fact that non-compliance with health and safety regulations is not an option. It is crucial that businesses of all sizes recognise the potential risks of corporate and individual criminal liability which flow from breach of regulatory duties.

Ian Manners of Ashfords LLP says:

“This case demonstrates the importance of taking considered legal advice from the outset and carefully preparing for interview. In this case, the statement prepared for the interview under caution was carefully drafted and struck the balance between giving a full account and protecting the client’s position. As a result, some three and a half years later at trial, we were in a position where at the end of the prosecution case the defendant didn’t need to give evidence and the judge even directed the jury that there was nothing further the defendant could say having given such a full account at initial interview. This is exactly what we mean when we advise and help our clients to ‘defend early’."

For more information please contact Ian Manners in our Business Risk & Regulation team.

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