Elsenham - Network Rail fined £1million
Date posted: Friday, 16th March 2012
On Thursday 15th March 2012, Network Rail were fined £1million by Judge David Turner QC, having been convicted of criminal breaches of health and safety law which led to the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson at Elsenham Station in 2005.
The Judge was damning of Network Rail for their flawed risk assessments at the station and their failure to heed warnings of how dangerous the station was. The Judge highlighted the importance of the gate keeper occurrence books which demonstrated frequently people were crossing when the warning light and siren was on. Network rail also failed to take on board the previous near misses and the 1989 fatal accident.
An aggravating factor in the prosecution had been the failure of Network Rail to disclose documents to the Inquest and to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) in their investigation following the accident.
These included a 2001 Railtrack memo which identified the set up at the station was confused, there was frequent misuse of the crossing and there was a real risk of disaster. Also not disclosed was part of a 2002 risk assessment which suggested the pedestrian gates across the track should be locked. The third document was the July 2005 risk assessment (the last before the accident) chillingly this had been instigated because of a near miss.
The 2001 "Hudd" memo was inexplicably not followed up and the failure of Network Rail to appreciate the information at their disposal in a culture of "corporate blindness" impacted on the fine given.
It was clear that as Network Rail largely rely on public funds; the Judge bore in mind that a swingeing fine could impact on the service to the public. Without this consideration, the fine may have been significantly higher.
Terry Lee and Daniel O'Keeffe of Russell-Cooke's personal injury team represented the families of the girls in successful civil cases against Network Rail. Through painstaking research Terry and Daniel located the occurrence books which had been in the possession of the British Transport Police. These documents were crucial in achieving settlements for the families. During the civil cases the "Hudd memo" and the July 2005 risk assessment were not disclosed.
The possibility of further action, including further legal action, by Russell-Cooke as a result of the failure to disclose key documents cannot be ruled out.
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To see the original case notes, please click here