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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 15:33 GMT
Rail firm's manslaughter acquittal upheld

southall train crash The crash killed seven and injured 150 people

Families of Southall train crash victims are "bitterly disappointed" after Great Western Trains had its manslaughter acquittal upheld in court.

Three judges upheld last year's decision to clear the company of manslaughter charges.

Desmond Collins, a solicitor representing many of the victims and their relatives, said the outcome of the appeal had never been in doubt.

But he added: "The bereaved and injured at Southall will of course be bitterly disappointed."

The decision will also disappoint those hoping for a change in the law to enable companies to be charged with manslaughter without individuals necessarily being found guilty.

Seven people died and 150 were injured on 19 September 1997 when a high speed train operated by Great Western went through a red signal in Southall, west London, before colliding with an empty freight train.

Manslaughter charges had been brought against GWT and its driver Larry Harrison. But they were dropped at the Old Bailey hearing last summer and Great Western was fined 1.5m.

'Parliament's decision'

Mr Justice Scott Baker ruled in a preliminary hearing that a company could be successfully prosecuted for corporate manslaughter.

But this was only if a person within the company was found guilty of gross negligence, which could also be said to be gross negligence by the company.

This was referred to as "the principle of identification".

In the GWT case, the prosecution had failed to identify that such an individual existed and the company was entitled to be acquitted, he ruled.

Lord Justice Rose, vice-president of the Criminal Court of Appeal, sitting with Mr Justice Potts and Mr Justice Curtis, upheld the judges' decision.

The court said this was the present state of the law and it was for Parliament, not the courts, to decide whether it should be changed.

'Affront to legal system'

After the hearing, GWT said: "Whatever decision had been reached by the Court of Appeal, it would not have affected the verdicts of not guilty entered against GWT.

"However, the court's decision will affect the liability of all companies for manslaughter in the future."

Richard Lissack QC, appeared for Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Attorney General, the government's legal adviser and prosecutor. Mr Lissack had argued that the judge had misunderstood the law.

Mr Lissack said: "That state of affairs - were it right, which it is not - would be an affront to our system."

A subsequent inquiry into the accident was held last year. A report is due to be published in the next few weeks.

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See also:
03 Feb 00 |  UK
Plea for corporate manslaughter law
06 Nov 99 |  UK
Rail inquiries 'to sit together'
20 Dec 99 |  UK
Final day for Southall inquiry
24 Oct 99 |  UK
Southall survivors 'ignored'
11 Oct 99 |  UK
Families back rail 'super-inquiry'
28 Sep 99 |  UK
I'm sorry, says Southall crash driver
27 Jul 99 |  UK
Southall: The crash that killed seven

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