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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK


Judge slams no-show train boss

Corporate manslaughter charges against GWT were dropped

A judge has criticised a senior executive of Great Western Trains for failing to turn up for the hearing into the Southall train crash.

The company has admitted breaching health and safety laws over the crash in west London two years ago in which seven people were killed and 150 injured.

The BBC's Tom Heap: The collision happened a few miles short of the terminus
Richard George was responsible for safety policy and was on the train when it crashed.

But when Mr Justice Scott Baker at the Old Bailey asked if Mr George was in court to answer questions he appeared astonished to be told "No".

The judge told lawyers: "He is the man in charge of safety, yet he is not here. He has not taken the trouble to come to court."

Safety systems failed

The company pleaded guilty on Friday to failing to provide transport to the public "in such a way as to ensure that they were not exposed to risks to their health and safety".

The offence carries an unlimited fine. The court is to decide on the degree of guilt the company should bear for the crash.

Corporate manslaughter charges against the firm have already been dropped.

The court heard that neither of the safety systems on board the train was working at the time of the accident.

Richard Lissack QC, prosecuting, painted a picture of dereliction of duty by Great Western.

He contrasted what the company said in safety documents and what happened on the day.

Mr Lissack said the company accepted it was at fault and that it would have been "reasonable practice" to stop the train at Swansea because of the failure of the Automatic Warning System.

Driver missed red light

Mr Lissack said the company was guilty of dereliction of duty in allowing the train to enter and remain in service - operating with the safety systems switched off and allowing the driver to operate alone.

"The company cannot say that they are absolved from blame due to the driver," said Mr Lissack.

But the defence claimed primary responsibility lay with the driver for not seeing a red signal.

Defending, Jonathan Caplan QC said the company did not accept that its failure to stop, or "turn", the train was a "significant factor" in the accident.

"The degree of fault in not turning the train was not high," said Mr Caplan. "Their failure was a contributory factor. As a matter of law we say it was not a significant cause.

"We say the driver did not do what he was trained to do."

Asked by the judge if the company was saying it was all the driver's fault, Mr Caplan replied: "No. We will be making submissions."

The court was told that the company dedicated a lot of time to the issue of safety.

An earlier hearing was told that driver Larry Harrison, 57, was packing his bags as the express train ploughed into an empty freight train in September 1997. He had failed to notice two red lights.

Manslaughter charges against him have been dropped for a number of reasons, including health grounds.

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02 Jul 99 | UK
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