BP yesterday accepted blame for failures to protect employees, the environment and consumers as it agreed to hand over a total of $373m to settle a string of criminal investigations into its conduct across America.

In an effort to put lapses under the leadership of Lord Browne behind it, BP struck a broad deal with the US Department of Justice to address the catastrophic 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery, last year’s oil leaks from an Alaskan pipeline and a pattern of manipulation of propane prices by BP’s commodity traders.

In Washington, officials from six US law enforcement bodies gathered to announce the company’s guilty pleas.

The acting attorney general, Peter Keisler, said the deal demonstrated the US government’s commitment to enforce laws to protect the integrity of both financial markets and the environment.

“Businesses that ignore those laws and endanger their workers and communities or corrupt our markets must be held accountable,” said Mr Keisler.

The biggest fine BP faced – some $303 million – was for fixing the propane market. It received much smaller fines – $50 million – for the Texas City fire, and $20 million for Alaskan spillages.

The fact that some fifteen people were killed in Texas, suggests that the US authorities seem it a greater crime to rig a financial market than kill someone.