Barrow Borough Council in Cumbria is to be prosecuted for the manslaughter of seven people who died from legionnaire's disease, it was announced last week, in the first corporate manslaughter case of its kind.
The Crown Prosecution Service is pressing charges not only against the council but also one of its employees Gillian Beckingham, a design services manager with Barrow Council, charged with breaching health and safety regulations. Seven people died following an outbreak of legionnaire's disease in 2002, and a further 140 people were infected as a result of an air-conditioning unit at the council-run Forum 28 arts centre. It was later discovered that a maintenance contract to clean the unit at the Forum 28 arts complex was axed by the council.
David Bergman, the director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability, claimed that it was "a landmark decision". "It does not reflect any change in the law but a change in the way work-related deaths are investigated," he said. "Since the introduction of new police procedures in 1998, work-related deaths now tend to be the subject of manslaughter investigations by the police. Prior to the introduction of these procedures such deaths may not even have been investigated by the police." If convicted of manslaughter, Mrs Beckinghham faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and the council an unlimited fine.