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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Scottish judge heads train crash inquiry
Cullen Inquiry
31 people were killed at Ladbroke Grove, just outside Paddington
If the UK Government was looking for a judge of pedigree to head the inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove train tragedy, without doubt the first name on its list was Lord Cullen.

The Scottish judge has played central roles in major investigations into two major disasters within the last decade.

Tragedies on Lord Cullen's own Scottish "patch" have seen him being thrust into the limelight.

On 6 July 1988, the North Sea Piper Alpha oil platform caught fire and exploded, killing 167 of the 228 on board.

Piper Alpha
Lord Cullen investigated the Piper Alpha disaster
Lord Cullen was given the unenviable task of answering the tough questions of how and why the disaster happened.

It took the top lawyer almost two years to complete his investigation and the conclusions led to the biggest tranche of safety reforms in the North Sea oil industry.

The Cullen Report, submitted in December 1990, resulted in most oil operating companies examining and altering their safety systems.

'Great compliment'

Aberdeen lawyer David Burnside, who represented families at the Piper Alpha inquiry, described Lord Cullen as "a first-class judge".

"It is a great compliment to the legal system that Lord Cullen, with his vast experience in such matters, should be asked to do this."

Lord Cullen's professional mettle was tested once again when he was appointed to head the public inquiry into the Dunblane tragedy.

On 13 March 1996, 16 children and their teacher were shot dead by Thomas Hamilton at the primary school in the small Scottish town.

Lord Cullen's recommendations led to fundamental changes over the ownership of handguns.

He has also played a central role in the complex legal arguments surrounding the impending case of two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

Appointed judge

The graduate of the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh was appointed a judge in 1986 and a Privy Counsellor in 1997.

Two years ago, William Douglas Cullen was made Lord Justice Clerk.

Between 1970 and 1973 he was Standing Junior Counsel to HM Customs and Excise and he was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1973 and served as an Advocate Depute from 1978 to 1981.

Lord Cullen was a Chairman of Medical Appeal Tribunals from 1977 until his appointment as a judge.

He presided over the Dunblane inquiry
He is a former member of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

And he has been awarded honorary degrees from the Universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews and Heriot-Watt.

Lord Cullen's report on the Ladbroke Grove rail crash pulled no punches and was highly critical of Railtrack in particular for "institutional paralysis" and a "lamentable failure" to learn from earlier safety failures.

He made 88 recommendations in his 270-page report, and said he was confident that his proposals would be acted upon.

But asked if an accident like Ladbroke Grove could happen again, he added:"I do not think that anybody in my position can offer assurances that it was impossible for an accident to happen."

James Cook reports:
"Lord Cullen's pedigree is unquestioned"
BBC Scotland's Reevel Alderson:
"Lord Cullen is known for his compassion"

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