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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
'Sabotage' crash claim rejected
Engineers scour the 'points' believed to be at the centre of the cause of the Potters Bar rail crash
Investigations centre on points and track maintenance
Rail experts have dismissed claims that an act of sabotage may have caused the Potters Bar train crash.

Suggestions of sabotage by an "informed person" were put forward by Jarvis, the firm responsible for track maintenance at the scene of the crash which claimed seven lives.

But Roy Bell, a consultant signalling engineer who advises the rail industry on safety issues, told the BBC the chances of the crash being a result of sabotage were slim.

"It would take an awful lot of know-how," he said.

"It would also incur a tremendous amount of risk on the person actually perpetrating the action... you stand a good chance of being spotted by somebody or being hit by a train."

  In-depth guide to the Potters Bar crash

Jarvis chief operating officer Kevin Hyde told the Times newspaper somebody with "utterly perverse" intent could have tampered with the points that derailed the train, also injuring 70.

Maintenance concerns

He said there was no maintenance requirement for two nuts found lying by the track to be removed, nor for a switch rail, used to shift trains to another piece of line, to be moved.

A spokesman for Jarvis later said there was "possible evidence of sabotage", and denied the company was trying to avoid taking any blame itself.

"We don't know what caused the accident. We have come up with a number of factors that suggest to us external sabotage, not casual vandalism, and it should be looked at fully," he said.

Rail expert Christian Wolmar also cast doubt over speculation of sabotage - blaming instead a maintenance error.

points on track
The HSE wants to establish why the nuts were missing
"This is not a matter of just undoing a couple of bolts.

"It is hard work. It really is I think a desperate attempt by Jarvis to put up a smokescreen when most of their evidence points the other way."

Peter Rayner, a former BR safety executive with some 40 years' experience, said there was a "less than 1%" chance the problem was an act of sabotage.

Mr Rayner said he believed the full HSE investigation into the crash, would find "a tragic mistake" in the track's installation, maintenance or supervision was responsible.

Jarvis said two nuts were found missing during tests on 1 May, and screwed back in. A further visual check on 9 May - a day before the crash - apparently found nothing wrong.

Steven Norris, a director of Jarvis and a former Conservative party vice-chairman, told BBC News: "I certainly wouldn't put my credibility on the line if I was not absolutely convinced by the evidence I have seen that sabotage is a very distinct possibility".

Investigation continues

A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said its officers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had no concrete evidence to suggest sabotage, but he said it is too early to rule the theory out.

An interim report by the HSE, published this week, said initial investigations showed the nuts may not have been replaced properly, or that maintenance work was unfinished.

It said that if sabotage was involved it would have been of "an extremely sophisticated and daring nature".

The BTP spokesman said: "Jarvis's speculation is based on secondary evidence in the form of photos.

"We and the HSE are examining the primary evidence and will pursue all areas of inquiry to determine the cause of this derailment."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Police officers conducting the Potters Bar inquiry don't seem convinced by the sabotage theory"
Non-Executive Director of Jarvis, Steven Norris
"Some tampering has been going on"
Kevin Hyde, Chief Operating Officer for Jarvis
"Were not reaching any conclusions"
Rail analyst Christian Wolmar
"I think it's largely a smokescreen"
See also:

14 May 02 | England
Crash experts focus on maintenance
14 May 02 | England
Potters Bar crash: The report
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