Lengthy legal delays hinder train crash victims' recovery

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE injured or bereaved in the Southall train crash 14 months ago are being prevented from making a full recovery because of the delay to the public inquiry into the disaster, their lawyers claim.

A solicitor representing 40 victims of the crash has accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of dragging its feet in deciding whether to bring corporate manslaughter charges against rail companies.

The public inquiry cannot begin until all criminal proceedings are concluded, and the trial of the train driver, who faces seven charges of manslaughter, cannot start until the decision is made.

The case against the driver, Larry Harrison, is due to return to court on Friday after being adjourned three weeks ago at the request of the CPS.

Fears are growing that the CPS may seek another adjournment, effectively delaying the issue until the New Year.

Des Collins, of the Watford law firm Collins, said his clients needed to know the causes of the accident, to help their psychological injuries to heal. "The most serious impact and aftermath was in the second carriage, where there was the most awful carnage," he said. "Everyone had to walk past that carriage and there can be no one who was not affected. In order to make that full recovery they need to understand why the accident happened and who was responsible."

Mr Collins said the delay also meant it will be months before lessons learnt from the inquiry are put into practice. "The main point is to make sure an accident of this nature does not happen again. Every time there is an accident on the scale of the recent ones in India and Germany, our clients relive the experience they suffered."

He wants the public inquiry to examine the reasons for the delays and the roles of the CPS, British Transport Police and the Health and Safety Executive. Glenda Jackson, the junior Transport minister, has told the law firm it is up to the chairman of the inquiry, Professor John Uff, to define the terms.

Seven people died and 147 were injured in the crash between a Great Western Trains (GWT) express and a freight train in west London on 19 September last year.

The central issue is understood to be whether the automatic warning system in the express train's cab was working. Corporate manslaughter charges could be brought against three companies: GWT; the company that leased the train; and the firm that maintained it.

Mr Harrison was charged in April and first appeared before Ealing magistrates on 27 May, when he was bailed to appear on 26 August. The case was then adjourned. It was further adjourned on 9 October, 23 October and on 6 November, when magistrates expressed concern that the CPS had not reached a decision.

The CPS said the case against Mr Harrison had been adjourned to give the service more time to decide on the corporate manslaughter issue. A spokeswoman said: "Corporate manslaughter is a very sensitive and complex issue. We are aware that victims and their families want the inquiry to open but our decision has to be made in the proper way."