Company Chiefs to Face New Disaster Deaths Law; DIRECTORS WILL BE SENT TO PRISON IN CASES OF NEGLIGENCE

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Byline: PATRICK HENNESSY

COMPANY directors are set to be held to account for deaths caused by "gross management negligence" under a new offence of corporate manslaughter, it emerged today.

The Government is finally due to change the law after years of pressure on behalf of victims of a series of rail crashes and other disasters.

Despite the move being pledged in Labour's 1997 election manifesto, ministers have previously dragged their feet over it. But Home Secretary David Blunkett is poised to announce that the Government is ready to introduce the new offence this year. The law will be designed to make sure that company directors held responsible for disasters cannot escape prosecution.

While it would not work in retrospect, it could apply to tragedies similar to the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, the Marchioness riverboat sinking and recent rail crashes such as those at Southall, Ladbroke Grove and Potter's Bar.

The new offence could mean that a director would be guilty of corporate killing if a management failure by his or her company was the cause of death.

Mr Blunkett's announcement, which could come tomorrow, is in part designed to head off a Labour revolt over the Government's flagship Criminal Justice Bill. The measure starts its final stages in the Commons today and about 80 Labour backbenchers could rebel over a swathe of controversial proposals, including the end of trial by jury in some cases.

Mr Blunkett is worried by the threatened revolt, following uprisings against foundation hospitals and moves to impose a pay settlement on firefighters. …

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