Railtrack charged after man died reporting fault

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The Independent Online
RAILTRACK AND two of its senior employees have been charged with manslaughter after a train driver was killed while using a telephone at the track side.

The company was allegedly told the telephone was too near the track on the line between Stockport and Manchester in 1993. But 19 months later the driver, Alan Griffiths, was killed after being knocked down by an express train while using it.

It is understood he had been ringing to report a difficulty with the line as instructed under health and safety regulations.

The case emerges at a time when there is great public disquiet over the failure of courts to find companies and senior employees guilty of manslaughter in such cases. There is also concern over safety standards in the privatised industry.

The Appeal Court has been asked to examine the law which allowed a judge to throw out charges of manslaughter against Great Western Trains after it was held responsible earlier this week for the Southall rail disaster. Although the Appeal Court is not being urged to reopen the case against GWT, the Attorney General, at the behest of the prosecution, is to ask the court to investigate the operation of the law on corporate manslaughter.

Relatives of the seven people killed in the Southall crash have denounced the pounds 1.5m fine levied by the Old Bailey judge as "derisory". While the fine was a record for a charge under the Health and Safety Act, lawyers acting for the families contended that it was insufficient to act as a deterrent.

It is only possible to bring a charge of manslaughter against a company if it is proved that one senior executive in an organisation was the "controlling mind" and therefore responsible for any "act or omission" which lead to fatalities.

In the Southall case, Richard George, the chief executive, was held to be ultimately responsible for safety, but not the "controlling mind".

Mr Justice Scott Baker, the presiding judge, acknowledged that the law was seen by some to be unsatisfactory because an individual had to be held culpable before an organisation could face a criminal charge. "However if the law is to be changed, it is up to Parliament to do so," he said. He pointed out that three years ago, the government-appointed Law Commission had argued for an offence of "corporate killing" to clear up the anomaly, but no action had been taken.

Louise Christian, head of a group of solicitors acting for relatives killed in the Southall crash, argued that the Government should immediately introduce legislation to make it easier to bring manslaughter charges against individual directors. She said there was considerable resistance at the Crown Prosecution Service and on the part of judges to put senior managers in the dock.

It has been notoriously difficult to hold any individual responsible in such cases. Individual directors were not held to be culpable when 187 lives were lost in the Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy; or in the 1987 King's Cross Tube fire.