Hatfield crash: rail bosses charged with manslaughter

Six senior managers from Railtrack's successor company Network Rail and maintenance firm Balfour Beatty were charged with manslaughter today in connection with the Hatfield train disaster.

The two companies have also been charged with manslaughter and failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Crown Prosecution Service announced.

Another six men received summonses for an offence under health and safety legislation, including former chief executive of Railtrack Gerald Corbett who is now chairman of Woolworths.

British Transport Police confirmed that six men – four from Railtrack and two from Balfour – had been charged with gross negligence manslaughter and a health and safety offence.

The maximum sentence for individuals is life in prison, while the companies face unlimited fines if found guilty.

Those charged and the companies and individuals who have been summonsed are due to appear before Central Hertfordshire Magistrates' Court in St Albans on Monday morning.

Four people died in the October 17 2000 crash when a GNER express train derailed half a mile south of Hatfield station in Hertfordshire.

The victims were Steve Arthur, 46, from Pease Pottage, West Sussex, Peter Monkhouse, 50, of Headingley, Leeds, Leslie Gray, 43, of Tuxford, Nottingham; and Robert James Alcorn, 37, of Auckland, New Zealand.

Solicitors representing the injured and families of the victims welcomed news of prosecutions, as did rail safety groups.

But Balfour Beatty criticised the decision to press charges and defended its safety record.

In a statement, the company said: "We see no justification for manslaughter charges to be brought against our maintenance business (BBRIS) or its former employees.

"The charge of manslaughter against our maintenance business will be firmly defended as we see no plausible basis for it in law or on the evidence.

"The individuals charged will have the company's fullest support in their defence of the charges against them."

Balfour Beatty shares fell more than 4% – off 9p to 186p – following today's announcement.

Network Rail also pledged to defend the company and its employees against the charges.

"As the company stated last week, we believe that our employees conduct their duties to the best of their abilities with the sole intention of delivering a safe, reliable and efficient railway network.

"It is now a matter for the courts and it would be inappropriate to comment further," a statement said.

Crown Prosecutor Andrew Faiers said the decision to press charges was based on "substantial evidence".

He said: "The CPS has been closely involved from the outset of the police investigation, advising the investigators and reviewing the substantial evidence which has led to today's charges.

"Throughout the police inquiry, public safety issues coming to light have been passed on to the railway industry by the police via the Health and Safety Executive."

The investigation was led by the BTP along with the HSE and the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL).

More than 1,500 witnesses gave evidence during the two–and–a–half year long probe.

The police seized more than one million pages of documentary evidence and BTP officers have interviewed 54 people under caution during their inquiries to date, the CPS said.

The London to Leeds train derailed because of a broken rail, which both Railtrack and Balfour Beatty allegedly knew about.

The accident led to a network–wide inspection of tracks and speed restrictions on trains while work took place.

Train punctuality has still not returned to pre–Hatfield levels and is not expected to for some years.

The six men who were all charged with four offences of manslaughter and one health and safety offence were named by the CPS today along with their job titles at the time of the crash.

They were Charles Pollard, director of the London North East Zone of Railtrack; Alistair Cook, infrastructure contracts manager of the London North East Zone of Railtrack; Sean Fugill, area asset manager of the London North East Zone (South) of Railtrack; Anthony Walker, regional director until 11 August 2000 of Balfour Beatty; Nicholas Jeffries, civil engineer for Balfour Beatty; and Keith Lea, track engineer of the London North Eastern Zone of Railtrack.

The six who were summonsed under the Health and Safety at Work Act were also listed with their job titles at the time of the crash.

They were Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack; Christopher Leah, director of safety and operations of Railtrack; Stephen Huxley, managing director until August 31 2000 of Balfour Beatty; Kenneth Hedley, a track engineer for Balfour Beatty; Vernon Bullen, King's Cross area maintenance engineer for Balfour Beatty; and Keith Hughes, an acting track engineer for Balfour Beatty.