BP acted with “wilful misconduct” in the lead-up to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the US government has alleged at the start of the trial over the accident, as it pushes for the highest possible penalties and damages.

In his opening statement, Michael Underhill, presenting the case for the US Department of Justice, said that even if any individual action by BP staff might not amount to wilful misconduct, the “accumulation of actions” that caused the disaster reached that standard. He added: “The evidence will show BP put profits before people, profits before safety, and profits before the environment.”