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3 June 2003

News Update Transco Homicide Prosecution Collapses

Scotland's Court of Criminal Appeal has dismissed 'culpable homicide' charges against Transco PLC, the gas supply company, for the homicide of four people who died on December 22, 1999 when a massive explosion destroyed a family house in Larkhall.

This was the first time that company had been prosecuted in Scotland for a homicide offence

Lord MacLean, on behalf of himself and Lord Osborne and Lord Hamilton, stated that:

"The court is unanimously of the opinion that this indictment in its first alternative (the culpable homicide charge) is irrelevant."

Transco, which was formerly British Gas, still faces an alternative charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act over the deaths of Andrew Findlay (34), his wife Janette (37) and their children Stacey (13) and Daryl (11).

This decision overturns the judgment of Lord Carloway in a lower court that ruled that:

"It may well be that in England there is a need to identify a particular person who could, if charged, also have been guilty of manslaughter, before a company can be found to have committed that crime. It is not a requirement under the Scots law of culpable homicide"

The judge was referring to the 'identification test' - which is part of the law in England and Wales - that requires a 'controlling mind or will' of the company to be prosecuted before a company can be charged for the offence. The judge said that there was no reason in principle in Scotland why the company should not be guilty of the crime even although no single individual could be prosecuted.

The ruling by the Scottish Criminal Court of Appeal indicates that the law in Scotland is the same or similar to the law in England and Wales - and an individual director must first be prosecuted before a company can be charged.

It means that the arguments for enacting a new offence of 'Corporate Killing' - proposed by both the Law Commission in England and the Home Office are the same in Scotland as in England and Wales. To read more about this, Click Here

In its original indictment, the Crown Office has claimed that Transco had shown "a complete and utter disregard for the safety of the public" and particularly that of the couple and their children.

To download a copy of the indictment, Click Here (word document)

It alleged that the firm had failed to devise, implement or maintain any adequate or effective policy for the maintenance, inspection or replacement of ductile iron pipes.

It claimed that the information on record systems for the gas pipe which passed through the garden at the family's home was inaccurate and incomplete.

It also alleged that the firm failed to properly investigate computer records which showed that a gas main had leaked on 27 separate occasions and that escapes of gas from the main in Carlisle Road had been reported by members of the public on at least 13 occasions between July 1988 and December 1999.

The Crown alleged that Transco had used the main to distribute gas to homes in the street when it was "extensively corroded".

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