Driver of train in fatal crash has his conviction quashed

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A train driver involved in a fatal rail crash 18 years ago expressed relief yesterday after his manslaughter convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Robert Morgan, 64, was told by three judges that his convictions were unsafe in the light of new evidence relating to a signal at the centre of the disaster.

Outside the court, he said: "I am pleased my conviction is squashed and my name is finally cleared. My thoughts will always remain with those who lost their loved ones. I feel very relieved because I bore this incident on my shoulders for 18 years and... this new evidence has come as great relief to me today."

Five people were killed and more than 80 injured on 4 March, 1989, when Mr Morgan's train from Littlehampton to London Victoria went through a red light and collided with another service north of Purley station in Surrey.

Several carriages rolled down a 40ft embankment and came to rest in back gardens. Mr Morgan, who was then 47, with 23 years of experience driving trains and an exemplary record, was sentenced in September 1990 to 18 months in jail 12 of them suspended after he pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter. His sentence was later reduced to four months on appeal.

Mr Morgan, from Littlehampton, West Sussex, launched an appeal against his conviction after he was told that a faulty signal might have been to blame for the accident. His legal team presented fresh evidence that the signal at the centre of the case, T168, had been passed when on red on four previous occasions between 1984 and 1987 the most recent of which had involved a near-accident and had been passed again in June 1991.

Lord Justice Latham, sitting with Mr Justice Cooke and Mr Justice Cranston, said: "Clearly, something about the infrastructure of this particular junction was causing mistakes to be made. These facts would have all been matters which the jury would have taken into account when assessing the level of fault of Mr Morgan. There is no way we can say accordingly that these convictions are safe.".

Mr Morgan's solicitor, Gary Rubin, said: "[He] remains mindful of the effect that this accident resulted in five passengers losing their lives and many others sustaining injuries. It is hoped that, after all this time, those affected will have a better understanding of the reasons behind this tragic event."

But Carol Clark, whose husband Colin, 55, was among those killed in the accident, was outraged by the court's decision, saying: "This is a travesty."