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‘Legal system did not give us justice’

This article is over 18 years, 7 months old
The tragic death of a worker at a car plant has shown how little the law does when profits come before safety
Issue 1856

AS THE car giant Ford celebrated its hundredth anniversary, it was also being fined £300,000 for safety breaches that led to the death of a worker. Christopher Shute drowned in a vat of hot paint at the Ford factory in Southampton.

A judge said Christopher’s death was an accident ‘waiting to happen’. The huge tank collected paint running off sprayed cars. Just months after it opened, it started overflowing, forcing workers to climb ladders to check foam levels.

Another worker fell into the tank shortly before Christopher Shute’s death but nothing was done. No warning signs or safety rails were put up. Two contract managers, Peter Preston and Paul McKenzie, were fined #5,000 each for failing to ensure safety.

The two men were originally charged with manslaughter but when they pleaded guilty to a lesser counts, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the more serious charges. The tank manufacturers, Haden Drysys, pleaded guilty to two breaches in the health and safety act. They were fined #20,000.

Christopher Shute’s sister, Anne Grundy, said after the hearing, ‘We were very angry that the serious charges were dropped as soon as Ford and the others pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. The evidence has not been heard and justice has not been done. We are now pressing for a full inquest to find out why Christopher died.’

Christopher Shute’s family have joined a growing list of grieving relatives who see corporations getting away with murder. Labour promised in its 1997 election manifesto to bring laws making it easier to hold companies accountable for deaths at work.

The families of those killed and the unions have been campaigning for legislation to make prosecutions easier. Last month, David Blunkett announced new legislation~but the proposals have been framed to please big firms.

Bosses found guilty of corporate killing will not go to prison or even be disqualified as directors. Glyn Oliver, a member of the Southampton trades council, told Socialist Worker, ‘This death is an utter disgrace. It is like going back to the Dickensian era when workers were carelessly killed and crushed for profit. A close friend of mine worked in that paint plant. Last year he died of cancer which he always claimed was caused by the chemicals they worked with. They were always on at management to put in ventilation, but nothing happened.’

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