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Hatfield charges brought

01 Aug 2003

documentary evidence was seized and 1500 witnesses interviewed.

The extreme complexity of this case has its roots in the split of responsibility between the infrastructure owner, the different contractors undertaking day-to-day maintenance in specific geographical areas and a separate set of contractors who undertake track renewals over much wider areas. This was the structure imposed in 1993-94 by the government of the day through its ministers, civil servants and advisors tasked with privatising British Rail.

The outcome of this potentially lengthy trial cannot be predicted, but of one thing we can be certain. None of the individuals who, through their decisions and actions, created what is now widely recognised as a flawed and virtually unworkable structure will suffer whatever fate awaits the hapless executives and engineers given the job of trying, somehow, to make it all work.

H Manslaughter charges brought against three professional engineers in August 2002 (RG 10.02 p603) over the accident on June 3 1998 at Eschede, Germany, have been dropped. An ICE derailed at nearly 200 km/h following the break-up of a resilient wheel, leading to one car striking a bridge, which then collapsed on the train, killing 101 people and injuring many more. The case centred on the design of the wheel, wheel wear limits and the wheel inspection regime, but it was found that none of the engineers was individually to blame and that the resilient wheel design could hardly be seen as the cause of the accident, which was deemed to have been the result of a particularly tragic sequence of unfortunate circumstances. The three defendants were each required to pay €10000 to the Land of Niedersachsen.

ALMOST three years after 35m of rail broke into some 300 hundred pieces under a GNER London - Leeds express near Hatfield on October 17 2000, causing a derailment that killed four people and seriously injured 34, two companies and 12 individuals were formally charged on July 9 with criminal offences. They made their first appearance in St Albans Crown Court on July 22.

The two companies are Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, formerly Railtrack plc, and Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Services Ltd, formerly Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance Ltd, which was responsible for maintaining the track. They are both charged corporately with manslaughter as well as offences under the Health & Safety at Work Act.

Facing the same charges are six executives and engineers then employed by Railtrack or BBRM. A further six men also working for the two companies face only the H&SWA charges; they include former Railtrack Chief Executive Gerald Corbett, who resigned after the accident, and Christopher Leah, now the director of Network Rail responsible for Safety & Compliance.

Manslaughter has proved almost impossible to establish under British law in the case of large corporations, but the grim prospect facing the six individuals so charged is a long term in prison. Both companies have stated that corporately and as employers they will mount a vigorous defence against the charges.

The case centres on where responsibility lies for the condition in which the rail was found after the accident (RG 3.01 p157), who knew it was dangerous, and what was or was not done to prevent such an accident. During the investigation carried out by the British Transport Police more than a million pages of documentary evidence was seized and 1500 witnesses interviewed.

The extreme complexity of this case has its roots in the split of responsibility between the infrastructure owner, the different contractors undertaking day-to-day maintenance in specific geographical areas and a separate set of contractors who undertake track renewals over much wider areas. This was the structure imposed in 1993-94 by the government of the day through its ministers, civil servants and advisors tasked with privatising British Rail.

The outcome of this potentially lengthy trial cannot be predicted, but of one thing we can be certain. None of the individuals who, through their decisions and actions, created what is now widely recognised as a flawed and virtually unworkable structure will suffer whatever fate awaits the hapless executives and engineers given the job of trying, somehow, to make it all work.

H Manslaughter charges brought against three professional engineers in August 2002 (RG 10.02 p603) over the accident on June 3 1998 at Eschede, Germany, have been dropped. An ICE derailed at nearly 200 km/h following the break-up of a resilient wheel, leading to one car striking a bridge, which then collapsed on the train, killing 101 people and injuring many more. The case centred on the design of the wheel, wheel wear limits and the wheel inspection regime, but it was found that none of the engineers was individually to blame and that the resilient wheel design could hardly be seen as the cause of the accident, which was deemed to have been the result of a particularly tragic sequence of unfortunate circumstances. The three defendants were each required to pay €10000 to the Land of Niedersachsen.