VW could face manslaughter charges
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London - Volkswagen could be prosecuted on a corporate manslaughter charge over its rigged diesel emission tests, ministers have signalled, as the Government faced questions from MPs over the number of deaths that could be attributed to the scandal.
The transport minister Robert Goodwill told the Environmental Audit Committee that a corporate manslaughter charge may be considered if legal advice suggests it could be successful.
Mr Goodwill said any decision to pursue a prosecution was “above my pay grade”, but added: “Certainly, if it could be proven that a case like that could be brought, then that [option] could be open.”
It would be for law enforcement authorities, rather than the Government, to bring forward a corporate manslaughter case against the company. Other avenues for legal action against Volkswagen could include a prosecution based on misleading testing authorities, or an investigation through the Competitions and Markets Authority, Mr Goodwill said.
Volkswagen has admitted to adding “defeat devices” to millions of its vehicles to enable them to produce dramatically less NOx pollution in lab tests than they do on the road.
LINKING DEATHS TO VW
Experts at King's College London estimate around 5800 premature deaths in the UK can be linked to diesel emissions from vehicles. However, it is not yet clear how many deaths could be linked to increased emissions as a result of the VW scandal, and a spokesperson for Volkswagen said the company could not comment on potential legal proceedings.
Ministers also faced questions over how much they knew about discrepancies in testing before Volkswagen's deception came to light. Research carried out six years ago by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggested pollution levels in real world engine tests were consistently higher than those recorded in lab settings. A further report in 2011 identified an “inadequate testing regime”.
Appearing before the committee yesterday, the Defra minister Rory Stewart said discrepancies between the two types of test had been public knowledge for several years. Ministers had not, however, been aware before the VW scandal of any manufacturer “cheating” the test, he said.
“We'd revealed the rules so clearly to manufacturers that they were designing cars to perform against those tests. It would be like producing for a student preparing for an exam all the details of how that exam was going to be conducted.”