UK train driver cleared of manslaughter over 1989 rail collision

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A train driver from the United Kingdom has had his conviction for manslaughter over a head-on rail collision in 1989 quashed. A train operated by Robert Morgan, 64, passed a red signal at Purley and struck an oncoming service on March 4, 1989, killing five and injuring 80 more.

Morgan's train had been destined for London Victoria having left Littlehampton, but after passing through the red light struck a Horsham-to-Victoria train at 60mph.

Morgan, of Ferring, West Sussex, was ultimately convicted of two counts of manslaughter over the accident to which he had earlier pled guilty, and was jailed in September 1990 for 18 months, of which 12 were suspended. A subsequent appeal reduced this sentence to four months. 47 years old at the time, Morgan had never had any previous problems during his 23 years driving trains.

However, after his conviction it emerged that in the five years preceding the crash there had been four separate Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incidents involving the same signal, signal T168. The last of these had itself almost resulted in an accident.

The court was also told that had Morgan, who was unable to fully remember the collision due to his injuries, been aware of the previous problems at the time he would not have pled guilty to manslaughter.

Lord Justice Latham said on Wednesday in the court of appeal that "The history of signal 168... would have been a significant factor in any jury's evaluation of the extent to which the appellant's fault could have been said to have gone from being negligent — breach of duty — to being the sort of breach of duty which justified the imposition of criminal sanctions." He went on to describe the information that had not been available at the original 1990 trial as of "considerable significance".

I am pleased that my conviction is squashed and my name is finally cleared. My thoughts will always remain with those who lost their loved ones.

—Robert Morgan

He added that a further SPAD incident that occurred two years after the crash at the site, despite improvements designed to prevent a recurrence of the crash, showed that "something about the infrastructure of this particular junction was causing mistakes to be made. Had a jury known that, it is at the very least impossible for us to conclude that the jury would inevitably have nonetheless convicted the appellant of manslaughter. These facts would have all been matters which the jury would have taken into account when assessing the level of fault of Mr Morgan. There is no way that we can say accordingly that these convictions are safe. The position is that we allow the appeal against convictions."

Latham acknowledged that Morgan had indeed made a mistake when he passed the signal at danger, but described the area surrounding signal T168 as "an accident waiting to happen".

Morgan's legal team issued a statement from him describing him as "both delighted and relieved" that Lord Justice Latham and the two other judges had ruled his conviction unsafe.

Solicitor Gary Rubin said: "It is unfortunate that at the time when this tragic accident occurred, the significance of this particular signal being passed at danger on four previous occasions was not properly understood. Due to this lack of understanding at the time, Mr Morgan was placed in a position where he had no alternative other than to plead guilty. The impact of the better understanding has been material to the [appeal] court taking the rare step of quashing a conviction where there had been an original guilty plea so long ago."

Morgan told reporters outside the court "I am pleased that my conviction is squashed and my name is finally cleared. My thoughts will always remain with those who lost their loved ones."


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