Rail manslaughter charges are dropped in Hatfield, England

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Charges against the five rail bosses accused of manslaughter on four people who died in the Hatfield, England train crash, have been dropped at the Old Bailey.

Alistair Cook, 50, Sean Fugill, 50, Keith Lea, 53, and two executives from Balfour Beatty — Anthony Walker, 46, and Nicholas Jeffries, 53 — all denied the manslaughter charges. A charge of corporate manslaughter has also been dropped against the engineering firm Belfour Beatty.

But the five men and their employers, Balfour Beatty and Railtrack, still face health and safety charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Four people were killed and many more were injured when a high speed train travelling from Leeds to London derailed just outside Hatfield on 17 October 2000. An investigation after the crash found that a cracked section of rail caused the train to come off the tracks.

After five months on trial, the judge Mr Justice Mackay told the jury to find the men not guilty, saying:

"It is not open to you to convict any of the six defendants on charges of manslaughter"

He added: "I must ask you to accept my ruling, which does not affect one way or the other the important decisions you will have to make when considering verdicts on the health and safety counts."

Mr Justice Mackay made the decision after reviewing the evidence and listening to submissions.

The collapse of yet another high-profile corporate case will more than likely put pressure for changes to current laws to make it easier to prosecute in corporate manslaughter cases. Work on new corporate manslaughter legislation has been under way for more than a decade in response to the problems encountered in bringing successful prosecutions. The latest proposals would criminalise gross management failure and the government has promised legislation before the end of next year.