FINES totalling millions of pounds may be imposed on Network Rail and Balfour Beatty this month, after the jury in the eight-month Hatfield trial found NR guilty of offences under Section 37 of the Health & Safety at Work Act on September 6.

At the same time, the jury found three NR managers and two Balfour Beatty employees not guilty of health and safety offences.

The five individual defendants and Balfour Beatty had been cleared of manslaughter charges on July 14 (RG 8.05 p459). Balfour Beatty then changed its plea on the health and safety charges to guilty on July 18.

NR had inherited the health and safety charge and a manslaughter charge - which was subsequently withdrawn - when it took over Railtrack in October 2002.

The essence of the prosecution case was that the need to replace the rail that broke under a GNER train at Hatfield on October 17 2000 had been identified 21 months earlier. Although new rail was unloaded at the site 15 months later in April 2000, it was never installed due to a dispute over possessions. Despite the obvious danger, no speed restriction was imposed, and trains continued to run over the defective rail at 185 km/h.

However, the jury accepted the defence case that although instructions and procedures had been breached, the structure set up at privatisation was seriously flawed and no individual could be held personally responsible for the accident.