Balfour Beatty fined £10m for Hatfield disaster

Balfour Beatty, which is still involved in major railway projects, was responsible for a track defect which put more than three-quarters of a million passengers at risk when they passed over the line near the Hertfordshire town, Mr Justice Mackay said.

The judge also fined Network Rail £3.5m yesterday for breaching health and safety legislation. Both companies were ordered to pay £300,000 each in costs in a case that incurred expenditure estimated at £20m. He said the engineering firm's culpability was "two or three times" as much as Network Rail ­ formerly Railtrack. Network Rail was convicted of breaching the Health and Safety Act last month and Balfour Beatty had admitted the charge earlier.

Four people died and 102 were injured when the King's Cross to Leeds train came off the tracks at 115mph on 17 October 2000.

The prosecution maintained the derailment, caused when the track " disintegrated", was an accident waiting to happen and occurred because of a cavalier approach to safety. The judge said both companies fell below appropriate standards, but Balfour Beatty's failure lay at the "top of the scale". The judge ­ who has spent 30 years involved in similar cases ­ said he had guarded against over-reaction in sentencing. " But I regard Balfour Beatty as one of the worst examples of industrial negligence in a high-risk industry I have seen," he said.

Balfour Beatty is no longer in the business of railway maintenance because Network Rail has taken over from Railtrack and taken maintenance "in house", but it is still involved in major projects on the system.

The judge said: "No one can predict the future, but the risks of such a tragedy had been reduced by the action of Network Rail. The elimination of one of the indefensible features of the 1996 privatisation ­ the separation of the ownership and control of the track from its maintenance ­ is now gone. Perhaps that is one good thing resulting from this disastrous affair."

A corporate manslaughter charge against Balfour Beatty ­ responsible for track maintenance ­ was thrown out by Mr Justice Mackay. His decision highlighted the difficulty of securing convictions against companies for corporate manslaughter under present legislation. Fresh calls have been made for an urgent change in the law.

After it was cleared of corporate manslaughter, Balfour Beatty admitted the company had broken safety rules. Five rail executives were also cleared earlier this year of both manslaughter ­ on the direction of the judge ­ and of health and safety breaches, by the jury.

The court had heard there was a total vacuum in management and supervision of track inspection on the busy line near Hatfield.

The fines were welcomed by the Safe Trains Action Group (Stag). Its vice- chairman, Carol Bell, said: "We have said that there have to be bigger, swingeing fines for companies and it's good to see that there have been in this case."

Balfour Beatty said that in entering its guilty plea, it had accepted inadequacies and apologised. "It is, however, clear that the accident arose as a result of a systemic failure of the industry as a whole. At no stage did BBRIS [the Balfour Beatty subsidiary] work outside industry standards on patrolling and inspection as they were constituted before the accident."

Audrey Arthur, whose son Steve was killed in the crash, said after the fines were announced: "I don't think justice was done." Speaking on Sky News, she said: "I think of my son all the time and I can take no satisfaction from the fines.

"Within a month they will have forgotten about all this. But we have got it with us for the rest of our lives."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor