Record fine over train crash

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The Independent Online
A RAIL company executive last night defended his decision not to attend the court hearing at which Great Western Trains was fined pounds 1.5m over the Southall train crash.

GWT's chief executive, Richard George, said he had stayed away on legal advice and his absence "in no way indicated a lack of remorse".

The pounds 1.5m fine was the highest fine imposed under the Health and Safety at Work Act, but it did not satisfy those close to the seven people killed and 150 injured who accused GWT management of "complacency". In a damning ruling, the judge at the Old Bailey condemned the company, not only for its failure to protect passengers on the service on 19 September 1997, but for its reluctance to accept responsibility. The court heard that the driver of the Swansea to Paddington express was packing his bag when the train went through red signals, but the company was culpable because it failed to make sure that an automatic warning system was in operation. Louise Christian, leader of a group of solicitors handling claims, said the fine was "derisory and an insult". She added: "The families wanted to see a larger fine - pounds 5m would have been more appropriate." Ms Christian said the fine "may appear to be a lot, but it is completely inadequate. It will not hurt GWT in any way". She maintained there was an "impression of great complacency" at the company, which had a pounds 300m turnover. Joan Petch, 50, from Bristol, whose husband Anthony, a company director, died in the crash, said: "There is no justice. What is pounds 1.5m today?" The judge renewed his criticism of GWT's chief executive for not attending the three- day court hearing. But Mr George insisted last night that his absence followed legal advice.

Great Western Trains pleaded guilty to failing to provide transport to the public "in such a way as to ensure that they were not exposed to risks to their health and safety".