Builder jailed for gross negligence manslaughter

7 October 2013

George Collier, 49, from Conwy had pleaded not guilty to gross negligence manslaughter atMold Crown Court.  He was charged following the death of 3 year old Meg Burgess in July 2008 who had been walking home with her mother when a wall constructed by Mr Collier's company Parcol Developments Ltd collapsed on top of her.  The company pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety legislation. 

Mr Collier was found guilty by a jury following a 3 week trial and in addition to receiving a sentence of imprisonment of 2 years he was also disqualified from being a company director for 7 years.

Mr Collier had been working at a house being renovated, the wall was constructed and back filled and was acting as a retaining wall but had not been built or reinforced for this purpose.  It collapsed under the weight of earth resting against it tragically at the time Meg and her mother were walking past.

A spokesman for the CPS Special Crime Division said that they hoped the conviction and sentence would stand as a warning for those who carry out substandard building work.  The limited company despite its guilty pleas did not receive a separate penalty and is believed to be without funds. 

Gross negligence manslaughter is a relatively unusual charge.  It arises where the death of an individual is caused as the result of a grossly negligent, although otherwise lawful, act or omission on the part of the defendant.  In the recent case of R-v-Adomako (1994) the House of Lords outlined a four stage test requiring that the prosecution prove the following:-  

a) – the existence of a duty of care by the defendant to the deceased.

b) – that there has been a breach of that duty of care.

c) – the breach of that duty of care causes or significantly contributes to the death of the victim; and

d) – that the breach should be characterised as gross negligence and therefore a crime. 

It is possible to cause a breach of a established duty of care by way of either an act or an omission so a failure to act in a certain way can amount to a breach as much as a specific act can.  A failure to properly maintain vehicles or machinery can often lead to a consideration of such a charge.