Campaigners expressed concern yesterday after an employer was cleared of manslaughter, despite a “deplorable” safety policy which resulted in the decapitation of a casual worker by the jaws of a crane grab two hours after he started work.
Simon Jones, 24, was killed at a Shoreham dockyard, in West Sussex, in May 1998, when the jaws of a clam-shaped crane grab closed over his head and neck, fracturing his skull and severing his head.
A jury at the Old Bailey cleared general manager Richard Martell and Euromin Ltd of manslaughter by a majority verdict, but found the company guilty of two breaches of health and safety regulations. The Dutch-based firm was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
The court heard that Mr Jones, a student at Sussex University, had been sent to work for one day unloading bags of stones from a cargo ship. His job was to attach the bags to chains hanging from the underside of the grab, which was open. He was killed when the lever that operated the grab got caught in the clothing of the crane operator, Jim Harris, causing the jaws to close.
Judge David Stokes said that the method of attaching bags to a hook welded to the grab should never had been used.
He said: “I regard the excuses put forward as lamentable.The fact is that this company between February 1997 and April 1998 failed to carry out any of the most important parts of its duty. The failure to do that was absolutely deplorable in my view. If it had been done, the death of this young man might have been avoided.”
The case was brought after three years of pressure by Mr Jones’s family. The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, launched by friends of the student, staged a number of direct action protests, including stopping traffic on the bridge next to the health and safety executive building in London for three hours.
In March 2000 two high court judges overturned a decision by David Calvert-Smith, director of public prosecutions, and the CPS, not to prosecute the company. They had, the judge ruled, behaved “irrationally” by insisting there was no realistic prospect of conviction, and ordered them to reconsider “with dispatch”. It took a further nine months before summonses were issued against Martell and Euromin.
Emma Aynsley, Simon Jones’ girlfriend, expressed her disappointment at the verdict. “I feel exhausted and stunned. But most of all I feel a great fear at the message this has sent out to employers, and to workers, that they don’t have the right to go to work and come back alive.”
Louise Christian, the family’s solicitor, said that the verdict did not detract from the fact that the CPS got the law wrong in its original decision that there was no case to answer. “Until employers know that they face the possibility of prison we are not going to get a proper deterrent. This was all about the Jones family knowing that this wouldn’t happen again. But I believe that they have still achieved a great success in getting the case to this stage.”
Following the verdict, the TUC called for a new law on corporate killing, an offence proposed by a Home Office consultation paper in March 2000. Last year there were 442 work related deaths in the UK.
Category: Report Update