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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK


Crash inquiry 'must start in days'

Seven people died in the Southall crash

The crash at Paddington should immediately be incorporated into the current public inquiry into the 1997 Southall rail accident, solicitors have demanded.

London Train Crash
Solicitors acting for the victims of the Southall incident say it is vital the two crashes are investigated together in order to address rail safety.

The Southall public inquiry resumes on Monday - and barristers acting for the families will make the demand as soon as proceedings reopen.

Seven people died and 150 were injured in the Southall accident - which took place on the same stretch of track as the latest tragedy - when the Great Western train from Swansea to Paddington crashed into an empty freight train on 19 September 1997.

Shaun Twomey of Collins Solicitors in Watford, who are acting for the victims, said the future safety of passengers was the key issue.

[ image: Firemen search a carriage in the latest tragedy]
Firemen search a carriage in the latest tragedy
He told BBC News Online: "Our responsibility at the public inquiry is to address issues of rail safety.

"In order to ensure that the inherent deficiencies in co-ordination of safety management are examined it is necessary not to look at incidents in isolation but together."

He said inquiries could always identify individual mistakes involved in accidents, but "the deeper issues are those of management".

Psychological injuries

Mr Twomey said it was also vital that relatives of victims and survivors were spared a long wait for an inquiry.

"Relatives should not have to wait two years before an inquiry starts," he said.

Mr Twomey said two accidents which followed the 1988 Clapham rail crash had been incorporated into the Clapham investigation.

He said: "In the important process of recovery from the psychological injuries - and there will be the most horrific psychological injuries - people need to know what happened."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who heads the department of environment, transport and the regions, announced soon after the Paddington crash that there would be an inquiry.

But a spokesman for his department said it was too early to say how the inquiry will be conducted.

He said the terms of the investigation would be agreed by officials from the department and the Health and Safety Executive.

'Need for action'

Mr Twomey's call for the Southall inquiry to be widened to include Tuesday morning's crash came as a rail expert said the latest incident was "almost certainly an exact repeat" of the Southall accident, with a train crossing the tracks and another colliding with it.

Chris Jackson, deputy editor of the Railway Gazette International, said lessons had not been learnt from Southall because two years had been "wasted" in pursuing court cases.

And his concern about the delay to the Southall inquiry was echoed by another solicitor acting for those bereaved at Southall.

"We feel awful that because of a two-year delay due to unsuccessful criminal prosecutions, the (Southall) inquiry has not been completed before this tragic demonstration of the need for urgent action on train safety," said solicitor Louise Christian.

The Southall public inquiry was opened in February 1998, but almost immediately adjourned, opening again on 20 September this year.

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