Family denied report into rail death

NICHOLAS TIMMINS

Public Policy Editor

The family of an ecologist who died boarding a train at Oxford station is being refused the findings and recommendations of an internal railway industry inquiry into the death.

But the same procedures that appear to have contributed to his son Adrian's death in July last year appear still to be in force at the station, according to Dr Godfrey Fowler, a family doctor in Oxford and Reader in General Practice at the university.

The case is "a classic illustration of the need for a Freedom of Information Act," according to Maurice Frankel, director of the campaign for an act.

Dr Fowler's attempts to establish the report's findings have resulted in him being successively refused a copy by British Transport Police, Thames Trains, who run Oxford station, CrossCountry Trains who ran the train involved, the coroner who recorded a verdict of accidental death, and Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport.

Dr Fowler said yesterday that the situation is both "extraordinary" and "quite unacceptable".

His regional Rail Users' Consultative Committee has also been refused copies. Sean O'Neill, its secretary, said the committee may press for the issue to be taken up nationally. "I do not see the reasons for this refusal. There are issues of public confidence at stake. This can only increase public unease."

Dr Fowler said yesterday: "We believe there should be a right to this information. Not only are we being denied information relating to the death of our son, but both we and other passengers need to know what the recommendations were and that they are being implemented.

"As far as I can see from visits to the station over the past six months, they have not been. On one occasion I saw what must have been an almost exact replication of what happened to my son - but in this case the passenger survived."

Adrian, 29, died boarding the 7.03 to Birmingham. As far as Dr Fowler can establish, the central locking mechanism appears to have operated as his son attempted to board the CrossCountry Train as it departed. As a result, he failed to board, fell and struck his head.

At the inquest, Dr Fowler learnt that the senior conductor who operates the mechanism and instructs the driver to start was at the front of the train and was therefore unable to see what was happening at the rear. At the inquest, he said, the conductor agreed that the accident might not have happened had he been at the rear. Dr Fowler says that conductors still clear trains for departure from the front.

A spokeswoman for Thames Trains told the Independent that the recommendations and findings of the inquiry were an internal matter and "not for the public to know".

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