Select Committee on Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 290 - 299)



  Q290  Chairman: Could I welcome you this morning. As you know, this is one of a series of oral hearings that we are having on the draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill. We have also received a large amount of written material, which gets published and on which we will draw heavily for our final report. I wonder if you could briefly introduce yourselves and explain the aims of the organisation.

  Mrs Dallaglio: I am Eileen Dallaglio. I am a founder-member of Disaster Action, a founder-member of the Marchioness Action Group, and currently with the Marchioness Contact Group. The aims have always been very clear. At the time of that disaster, when 51 young people lost their lives, we went in search of truth and justice as to how such a tragedy could come about in the middle of London, within a hand's stretch of this building. Being a former air stewardess, in charge of health and safety on an aeroplane carrying 130 people, I had a very good training, and I was very concerned about the manner in which my daughter died along with 50 other people. We pressed for an explanation and truth and justice, pushing for an inquiry into river safety. It started with the Hayes Inquiry, but went on to the coroner's court—that was a massive battle—truth and justice—and realising that we were extremely restricted by the laws. It then went on to Lord Justice Clarke's public inquiry into river safety—which threw out a few more facts—and then finally on to Lord Justice Clarke's report that branded Ready Mix Concrete, Tidal Cruisers, East Coast Aggregates and South Coast Shipping guilty in their failures to implement a safe system of safe navigation of their vessels on the River Thames. In fact they appointed themselves, ie the managing director of East Coast Aggregates, in charge of health and safety. Our aims have always been the same: that that should never, ever happen again. People in this building—and this is the only place you are ever going to get any justice, because the courts certainly did not mete it out—should have ordered an immediate inquiry following that disaster under section 55 of the Merchant Shipping Act. It was actually held some 13 years down the line by Lord Justice Clarke. In his words, "We are today where we should have been 13 years ago."

  Mr Perks: Correct.

  Mrs Dallaglio: Those are our aims. They continue now. We want some peace from this disaster and we want to make sure that this Bill for corporate accountability and corporate responsibility is pushed through Parliament. We realise the difficulties you have. We do not have a witch hunt on the corporate companies—let us make that very, very clear. There are a few that are rogues and those people have to be brought into line. It means that they must be made accountable, either on the criminal side or on the civil side—which in 16 years after the Marchioness none of them have been: furthermore they have successfully handed us the liability for their negligence.

  Mr Perks: My name is John Perks. I will not go through what Mrs Dallaglio has just said. I am a part founder-member myself over the last 15 years, so I concur with everything she has said. To tell you a little bit about myself gives the background to how strong I feel about the health and safety issues and what you ladies and gentlemen are up to to get this Bill through however or whichever way it goes.

  Q291  Chairman: To be helpful, I hope you will be able to cover the specifics about the issue here.

  Mr Perks: Yes, from questions from the Chair, obviously.

  Q292  Chairman: Having established who you are, I will try to move through this, and I will try to make sure that if there are issues we are not covering that you have the opportunity to bring those in.

  Mr Perks: I will be very brief, because Eileen has said all of that, and obviously that is the direction we are going in. For the last 10 years, I have been involved in the construction industry as a project manager, so our committee is aware, through my discussions with them, what is on board here. I have written the CDN documents, the method assessments, the risk assessments, so basically there is a background for the whole of our committee to glean information from myself.

  Q293  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. The aim of this Bill, as the Government have put it to us, is to ensure that where people are guilty of corporate manslaughter there can be criminal convictions. In your view, why did the manslaughter prosecutions under the existing law fail you in the Marchioness case?

  Mrs Dallaglio: I do not think the proper charges were brought in the first place. I think there should have been an immediate inquiry under section 55 and that would have quickly established who was guilty of those deaths. It was a massive loss of life here in the middle of London. In Lord Justice Clarke's words: "It cried out for public scrutiny" yet it got none. I could not believe, as the years went by, starting from the trial of the Master of the Bowbelle, you were up against future Lords and Law Lords of this country representing the corporate companies. There is no legal aid available to anybody to fight a case for negligence. It was quite clear very early on that some person or persons had been negligent in those deaths, and yet we went into a court of law where we were looking at arcs of visions and strobe lights—from day one in Douglas Henderson's two trials—and nowhere, but nowhere, did they ever address issues of how, where, why and by what means 51 people lost their lives.

  Q294  Chairman: Is it your sense that it was not necessarily the law itself that stopped there being a conviction but the way in which the case was handled and pursued? Or is there—and this is central to our inquiry—a fundamental problem with the way the manslaughter law currently exists which made it impossible to get a conviction, even though elsewhere in the process there had been a verdict of unlawful killing?

  Mrs Dallaglio: That became clear over the years. That became very, very clear. I attended every court hearing in the land, or every hearing outside the courts pertinent to this inquiry and even others—the rail disasters. We have people bringing cases against those responsible for those deaths in the Ladbroke rail disaster, and they damn well know that under the present structure of the law in this country they are not going to get a criminal conviction against the directors of those companies, who have been found causative of failure in their duty to protect the public at large. That is something that I feel very strongly about, because it is a total and utter waste of public money in the present manner, and this building has a duty to put it right, to ensure that all of the facts are looked at, and that these people, these individuals who have a malaise—

  Q295  Chairman: I am really sorry to cut you off, because I can quite understand why you want to express your views so forcefully.

  Mrs Dallaglio: I am sorry.

  Chairman: But I am keen in the limited time we have that we should cover a number of quite specific questions. I do not want to cut you off but I am worried that we might lose the opportunity to gain some insight on some specific points. Could I turn to Mr Prosser.

  Q296  Gwyn Prosser: Good morning. You have just made the point that there was no redress, there were no means of pursuing criminal prosecutions at that time or since. You have been closer than anyone to these matters and you have rehearsed these issues lots and lots of times, but could you tell the Committee why it is so important in the case of the Marchioness, for instance, that criminal prosecutions against individuals should have taken place rather than what happened: the public inquiry and inquest.

  Mrs Dallaglio: I think there has to be something set out in law whereby, if these people do not put in place proper procedures to protect the public, they will be held accountable. At the moment—and I am not a lawyer, but, by God, I have learned a lot about the law over the years—these people know that they are not going to be held accountable. They sit there with impunity and laugh at you. Those in this building have a duty to protect the likes of us. They have a duty to do that. And that is what I want to see in the future. I never want to see that sort of thing happen again.

  Mr Perks: The view that the Marchioness Committee holds is that the existing punishments for gross, blatant breaches of health and safety laws are totally inadequate. They are not a sufficient deterrent. They do not reflect the public desire for retribution when people are unlawfully killed as a result of those breaking the law. That is what is happening in construction and on our public transport systems, and it has to stop.

  Q297  Gwyn Prosser: You have made the point Mrs Dallaglio that directors can act with impunity and the law does not touch them. Under the present existing law, if loss of life can be related directly to the actions or inactions of an individual (for gross negligence, et cetera) then charges can be taken against that individual and the penalty can go as far as life imprisonment. Why do you think this particular piece of legislation should include direct personal liability for directors and others?

  Mrs Dallaglio: We have seen prosecutions. We have come a long way since 1989. The Selby rail disaster: one individual. There are several others. But we have not had a successful prosecution of a director or directors who have continuously allowed a malaise to exist within their corporation, where they have failed to set in place the correct health and safety procedures which are necessary to protect the public and the individuals that work for them. For God's sake: if they do, they have nothing to fear. Nobody mixes with corporate people more than I do within the Twickenham organisation, the RFU, and, quite frankly, we have the highest standards over there, every time I go to watch a match there and over 100,000 people go in and out of the turnstiles. They have nothing to fear if they put into place the correct procedures to protect people. But, over many, many years, many, many rail disasters, they have not put those things in place. They have appointed themselves health and safety directors, in charge of large vessels the size of a football pitch on the River Thames.

  Mr Perks: We do not follow the mandate that was put down in government, that we find the legal system or the courts processed that as it should be processed. We find constantly that you will have companies that just wriggle. I say "wriggle": they have vast armies of QCs, solicitors, barristers to call upon, and they seem to deflect those responsibilities that they are charged with as a director of a company. Many times they wriggle and wriggle and away they go. This, we say again, has to stop. The people in this House, you are the people who can change this for the people of this country . It is our politicians we are addressing this to now. You are the people who can address what is wrong within that system.

  Q298  Gwyn Prosser: On this specific issue of the personal liability of directors, some of the other witnesses from other victim support groups have given us their opinion that without personal liability being attached to the Bill—and it is not there at the moment—we might as well not bother. What is your view of that?

  Mrs Dallaglio: Personal liability. In every respect in the Marchioness tragedy, from my own experience and what I have experienced within our committee, these companies took Francesca's life unlawfully, and she had a right to it under Article 2.2 of the European Convention. They handed us 15 or 16 years of non quality of life and a horrendous path—something I would not bestow it on my worst enemy—and I thank God that I have survived it. And then, to add to everything else, they have handed us the financial liability for it as well.

  Q299  Chairman: Mrs Dallaglio, perhaps I could address you on Mr Prosser's point because it is quite an essential issue for the report that we write at the end of this process. Obviously we cannot re-run the hearings, but would you suppose for the sake of argument the law we are now discussing was in place and it proved possible to convict the companies involved in the Marchioness disaster for corporate manslaughter under this Bill. As the Bill stands at the moment, the companies would be convicted, but there would be no individual convictions for liability on directors. Is the Bill in that form worth having? You get part of what you want, a conviction of the companies, but you would not have liability for directors. It is a hard question, but—as close to a yes or no as you can—is it worth pursuing a bill that does not have individual directors if at least you can convict the companies?

  Mrs Dallaglio: It is a bit of a red herring, but it is a step in the right direction.

  Mr Perks: It is not the answer, Chairman. Nowhere is it sufficiently near to becoming the answer. Responsibility and accountability is not apathy in the boardroom. Those guys are there to look after the welfare also, but what they go out to do is find where the profits are and what is payable.

  Chairman: That is very helpful. Thank you very much indeed.

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