Rail firm charged with manslaughter

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The Independent Online
THE RAIL company whose train was involved in the Southall crash, in which seven people died and 147 were injured, was yesterday charged with manslaughter.

Great Western Trains faces seven charges through gross negligence following the collision between one of its express trains and a goods train in west London on 19 September last year. It also faces a charge from the Health and Safety Executive under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act. Lawyers welcomed the move but one criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for not pursuing charges against any Great Western directors, which means that, while the company faces unlimited fines, no one faces the threat of a prison sentence.

The passenger-train driver, Larry Harrison, has been charged with manslaughter but proceedings have been delayed while the CPS deliberated. The manslaughter case and the HSE case are to be heard in Ealing, west London, on 12 January. The HSE prosecution alleges Great Western "failed to conduct ... the provision of transport by rail to members of the public in such a way as to ensure that the public were not exposed to risks to their health and safety".

Louise Christian, of the London solicitors Christian Fisher, said she was concerned the CPS had only pursued charges against the company. "This not what people understand by corporate manslaughter. Everybody understands that at least one director has to be prosecuted as well as the company, because imprisonment has a bigger deterrent value. We are very disappointed, as victims will feel let down." But the decision meant criminal proceedings would examine the role of the rail industry rather than just one person. "It should send a clear signal to all those involved in the rail industry that there is a real responsibility for the safety of passengers."

Des Collins, a partner with Collins, a law firm in Watford representing 40 people injured or bereaved in the crash, said: "We welcome the fact that it appears we are going beyond first causes of the crash. I am encouraged that the CPS and British Transport Police can look beyond the driver and see that other factors may be involved."

Great Western Trains said it would be "inappropriate" to comment, as the matter was sub judice.