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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 13:48 GMT
Hatfield driver cleared of blame
The site of the Hatfield train crash
Four people died in the Hatfield train crash
The driver of the train involved in the Hatfield crash has been cleared of any blame by the Health and Safety Executive.

In the second report outlining the latest details from its investigation, the HSE said "failure and fragmentation" of the rail had caused the accident.

HSE's findings
Rail failure and fragmentation caused crash
Rail broke into 300 pieces
Driver not to blame
Wheels and axles remained intact
Vandalism not a factor
No red signal passed

The section of track involved was due for renewal and had been inspected just a week before the accident.

The HSE said it was examining why the dangerous state of the rail was not spotted.

Police investigating the accident are confident they can bring charges for manslaughter against Railtrack and its contractor Balfour Beatty.

Asked about the possibility of manslaughter charges being brought, Sandra Caldwell, who is overseeing the HSE investigation, said the executive was not "in a position to say who may be held responsible".

"Neither we nor British Transport Police are in a position to comment on that aspect of the investigation," she said.

Outlining the findings of the report, Ms Caldwell told a news conference on Tuesday: "All evidence points to the derailment having been caused by the failure and fragmentation of the rail at Hatfield."

Investigators in Sheffield have reconstructed 300 pieces of shattered track from the scene of the crash and an intensive programme of tests is ongoing.

Mistakes

Four people died in the crash when a high-speed GNER service bound for Leeds came off the line at between 115mph and 117mph last October.

Its driver was still in training and strictly should not have been driving at high speed for another four weeks, but she had a fully qualified supervisor by her side, according to the HSE.

Cracked rail track
Close-up of cracked rail track
"There were no signals passed at danger and there was no evidence either that the driver's action contributed to the derailment or that vandalism was a cause," said Ms Caldwell.

She said a forensic examination of the train showed its wheels and axles had not failed and had not contributed to the crash.

Two couplers linking carriages had come apart and this could have added to the damaged caused when the carriages hit each other, but it was "pre-existing fatigue cracks" which caused the derailment, Ms Caldwell said.

Railtrack has admitted mistakes were made - either by its managers, or by engineers working for maintenance contractors Balfour Beatty.

Inspection concern

Track at the scene of the crash was scheduled for replacement but only temporary measures to make the rails smoother were completed.

Chris Willby, technical expert to the HSE board, said that some of the cracks in the rail were four inches long, more than an inch wide and an eighth of an inch deep.


Effectively, the surface of the rail had pieces out of it

Chris Willby
"Effectively, the surface of the rail had pieces out of it," he said.

Mr Willby added that the ultrasonic system should have been able to detect deep cracks and the system should "have given a complete picture to the people who examined it of a rail that was in a degraded state".

Vic Coleman, chief inspector of railways, said that the condition of the rail was such that speed restrictions should have been in place.

The section of track had been visually inspected only a week before the accident.

Mr Coleman said at the news conference that it was "a matter of concern" that the inspection had not revealed the state of the track.

He added that "a shockwave" had gone through the industry and that no-one checking rails remained unaware of the importance of their work.

Prosecution

The police investigation continues, and earlier HSE officials said a manslaughter prosecution was being "seriously" considered.

But to prove corporate manslaughter on the part of Railtrack or Balfour Beatty, prosecutors must establish which executives or managers took the crucial decisions that led to the crash.

In the past that has been extremely difficult to achieve, and therefore, individual manslaughter charges are more likely, as is a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The government has said no public inquiry into the crash will be held.

The solicitor for the families of those who died in the derailment said he was "very surprised" by the decision.

John Pickering, of Erwin Mitchell, told BBC News 24 "the door should not be closed" on the possibility of holding such an inquiry.

His views were echoed by RMT assistant general Vernon Hince.

"Was there risk involved for the sake of profit?," he said.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"The track at Hatfield was in a terrible condition"


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