Rail crash verdicts leave mystery

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The Independent Online

An inquest jury yesterday recorded a verdict of accidental death on a train driver and his guard blamed for a head-on collision, in which three other people died, near Cowden station in Kent.

But after seeking guidance on possible verdicts, the juryrecorded an open verdict on the driver of the other train and two passengers who were also killed.

After the inquest Jill Rees, whose husband David wascleared of all responsibility for last October's accident, claimed the jury had wanted to return a verdict of unlawful killing, but had been prevented from doing so on the coroner's directions.

On Saturday 15 October last year, Brian Barton, 31, from Croydon, south London, drove through a red light with his guard Jonathan Brett-Andrews in the cab alongside him, breaking British Rail rules.

David Rees, whose train was running late on the Uckfield to Oxted line, had no idea the other train was on the single track until seconds before they collided, killing him and two passengers, Raymond Pointer, 61, a freelance translator, and his wife Maura, 56, of Crowborough, East Sussex.

The coroner, Frank Warriner, said for some reason the up train driven by Mr Barton had not stopped at the red light, had jumped points and collided with the down train near Cowden station.

Contrary to BR rules, Mr Brett-Andrews, who had failed in his ambition to be a train driver, was also in the cab, raising unresolved speculation that he may have been at the controls.

Mr Warriner said: "Whoever was driving the train, why did he not stop at the signal? That question may never be answered."

There had been poor visibility but there was no evidence of equipment failure. The three-day inquest hearing at Tunbridge Wells in Kent heard evidence previously presented to health and safety inspectors.

A 50-page report published two months ago found Mr Barton was to blame for the accident and made a series of recommendations to prevent a repetition, including the installation of Cab Secure Radio, a two-way communications system. A signalman who realised the trains were on the same track had been unable to tell the drivers because there was no link with them.

Nigel Lewers, acting for Mrs Rees, argued that the jury should be asked to consider a verdict that the crash victims had been killed unlawfully. But the coroner said as a matter of law there was insufficient evidence to allow jurors to do so. Although there was no suggestion of equipment failure, no one had seen Mr Barton drive through the red light, neither was it clear who was driving.

The problems with communications had also been raised but Mr Warriner said there was no evidence of corporate responsibility for what had happened. James Watson, for Network SouthCentral, said: "In the peculiar circumstances of this case the mystery must remain."

Mrs Rees, 49, from Shirley, Croydon, expressed bitter disappointment at the inquest verdict. She said the accident need not have occurred, adding: "If they had had two-way radios in the van between the signalmen and the drivers it would never have happened."