Natalie Barton-Howes helps clients to minimise the impact and interruption to their business in the event of a regulatory investigation, which can affect future business opportunities and lead to lost management time, adverse publicity, increasingly substantial fines, costs and even prison.
When an incident occurs with potentially criminal consequences, especially a fatal incident, there are invariably distressing circumstances for you and your employees, who may have witnessed or been involved in the incident, to deal with. On top of this, there are the pressures of potentially multiple and far-reaching investigations being instigated by the Police, the Coroner, the regulator, your insurers and even responding to family members of the deceased, which need to be balanced against the business continuing, as safely as possible.
Natalie works with companies to gain an insight into how incidents can be prevented, conducting audits of company procedures and advising on effective risk management and avoidance, as well as assisting with the investigation process in the immediate aftermath of an event, including fatalities and serious injuries, environmental breaches, healthcare investigations and product recalls.
Natalie focuses on getting to grips quickly with the key facts and any technical details involved in an incident, in order to effectively assess your position and provide immediate pragmatic advice. She handles the ongoing relationship with the regulator and other investigating organisations with sensitivity, while ensuring that the best interests of the company are represented throughout, including at interviews under caution, at Inquests and at all stages of any criminal and civil investigation or enforcement action which can follow.
Something which can be done effectively, with the right resource in place, is to explain in detail to those investigating any incident how the relevant processes and practices which are in place across the business operate and to clarify where, if anywhere, improvements can be made by the business.
This often involves coordinating input across a number of departments, documents and personnel, and one of the most rewarding parts of Natalie's job is to know that she has helped clients to paint a complete and accurate picture of everything which they do to ensure compliance with health and safety, environmental or any other legislation which they are required to meet.
"In my experience, invariably, I will discover an enormous volume of work and effort which goes into keeping employees, persons in their care, visitors to their business and the environment safe on a daily basis and it is important to me to know that I have helped to get that message across as fully and effectively as possible."
Being involved in the Hillsborough Inquests has been a unique experience, with the significance of the proceedings and the scrutiny under which all aspects of the Inquests are held underlining the importance of reacting quickly and effectively to every development. Natalie had the opportunity to work closely with our client's in-house team on a long-term basis, identifying the need for and providing sufficient resource, support and advice throughout.
Natalie is the co-founder of a network for in-house lawyers who are 0-3 years PQE. Having recognised that there was an appetite for this type of network, she has helped to establish and chair 'ThinkHouse Foundations', (an offshoot of the firm's 'ThinkHouse' events), which runs bi-annual training on key, core topics for trainee and recently qualified in-house lawyers. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and it is fantastic to be able to deliver something which our clients find so useful to their day jobs. "The event also allows me to do what I most enjoy doing, which is to meet new people and find out about what they do!"
Food and drink manufacturers, healthcare and social housing providers, construction and engineering contractors and consultants, public sector organisations.
Advising an Interested Person in respect of their involvement in the ongoing Hillsborough Inquests, including managing the disclosure and review of half a million historic documents before the Inquests began and assisting with submissions to the Coroner throughout, often on novel points arising due to the unique nature of the proceedings.
Successfully resisting an application for the introduction of evidence of previous convictions and ultimately successfully defeating a health and safety charge brought against a manufacturing company under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, involving the deliberate overriding of an interlocked guard. The not guilty plea succeeded on the basis of a thorough and detailed understanding and explanation during trial of the application of both the Regulations and the relevant guidance, with the Trial Judge persuaded by our reasoning.
Guiding a major food manufacturing client through an ongoing matter to manage the investigation into a fatality on site, including managing the streams of correspondence between the police, Health and Safety Executive, Coroner, the client's insurers, the site staff and the company board in order to minimise disruption to the business and to maintain control over the flow of information being released.
Providing a national bread manufacturing client with the relevant resources and an effective method of reviewing food safety processes, to ensure regulatory compliance and to manage any risk to consumers or to the brand.
Negotiating a reduction in charges for offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and negotiating a favourable basis of plea for a building materials company arising from a serious injury at work to one of its own employees.
Effectively managing the publicity from the outcome of a trial for a paper manufacturing company, engaging with the regulator at an early opportunity to provide commentary and amendments on the proposed press release to reflect favourably on the client and proactively limiting the circulation of the publicity on social media.
Defending uninsured multi-track employment and public liability personal injury claims arising out of health and safety incidents on construction sites for a large national construction company, focusing on limiting the issues, securing early, confidential settlements and managing the matters strategically to achieve the best, most cost-effective outcomes.
Assisting a multinational oil and gas company to review over 100 health and safety policies for an international region, identifying relevant industry standards and identifying any gaps and non-compliances to ensure that any risks were also identified and covered off.
Assisting a holiday company to respond under caution to a local authority investigation in relation to an incident involving the company's employee and contractors, avoiding any charges being brought against the company. No further enforcement action has been taken to date.
Advising national house-building clients to respond to regulatory issues which arise in the course of developing properties, including delivering pleas in mitigation and responding under caution in respect of tree preservation and conservation orders, defending against claims from neighbouring landowners in respect of contamination issues, liaising with the Environment Agency and local authorities to avoid any enforcement action and advising in respect of the criminal consequences of non-compliance with planning conditions.
Assisting a drainage maintenance company to respond under caution to an Environment Agency investigation into a pollution incident and assisting them to manage and maintain their working relationship with their primary contractor. No further enforcement action has been taken to date.
Assisting a logistics company to manage an ongoing pollution from a neighbouring landowner, advising them in relation to the ongoing monitoring of the situation, on remediation strategies and the impact commercially on the land, and ensuring that the Environment Agency and local authority involved are kept appraised of the situation and that any enforcement action is avoided.
Assisting the owners of a chain of pubs to respond under caution to the local authority in defence of allegations brought under section 9 of the Planning (Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas) Act 1990. No further enforcement action has been taken to date.