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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Union rebuked over Paddington 'smear'

Public confidence in the inquiry could be undermined
The inquiry into the Paddington rail crash has reprimanded a rail union over its allegation that Railtrack spread "malicious rumours" about one of the drivers who died in the disaster.

Inquiry chairman Lord Cullen said he was "very disturbed" by a press report attributed to the drivers' union, Aslef, which he believed threatened the integrity of the hearing.

The report, centred around a statement by the union's secretary Michael Rix, claims that Thames Train driver Michael Hodder had been the subject of smear campaign started by Railtrack.


Paddington aftermath
Thirty one people died in the crash
The accusation was prompted by a remark from a senior Railtrack official at the inquiry, inferring that Mr Hodder might have been using a mobile phone to wish his son happy birthday moments before the crash.

Lord Cullen said that such statements could provoke counter-responses and undermine public confidence in the inquiry.

"I cannot emphasise too strongly that the appropriate place for a party to test a matter which is under issue before this inquiry, or to criticise the line taken by any party, is in this inquiry," said Lord Cullen.

Thirty-one people died when a Thames Train, driven by Mr Hodder, and a London-bound Great Western Express collided on 5 October just outside Paddington, west London.

Phone allegations

The inquiry heard on Wednesday that Mr Hodder did not own a mobile phone.

Lord Cullen said that both British Transport Police and Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate were satisfied that the Thames Train driver was not using a mobile phone at the time of the crash.

Mr Anthony Scrivener QC, representing Aslef, told the inquiry that Mr Rix had become "excited" by the accusations about Mr Hodder.

"I think Mr Rix would have felt that he would have been a poor trade union leader if he had not risen to the support of a former union member in this way," he added.

Mr Hodder's wife Kerry, who conceived just days before her husband died in the disaster, gave birth to a baby girl on Wednesday.

The inquiry continues.

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