Parents claim cover-up after fatal Network Rail safety lapse
Charlie Cooper is Health Correspondent for The Independent, i, and The Independent on Sunday, writing on the NHS, medical advances, and international health. Since joining the papers as an editorial assistant, he has been nominated for young journalist of the year at both the Press Awards and the British Journalism Awards.
Wednesday 01 February 2012
The parents of two teenage girls killed at a level crossing six years ago have said that the individuals responsible for safety failures must be brought to justice, after Network Rail pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety laws yesterday.
Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were hit by a train in December 2005 after stepping onto a footpath crossing at Elsenham station in Essex. Lawyers for Network Rail admitted that the company had failed to carry out a sufficient risk assessment and to properly control protective measures at the site, at Basildon Magistrates' Court yesterday.
The girls' fathers also claimed that Network Rail had been responsible for a "cover-up" that stopped the truth about their liability coming to light after the incident.
The case will be referred to Chelmsford Crown Court for sentencing next month. District Judge John Woollard ruled that the maximum fine of £30,000 that could be ordered for the three offences was insufficient.
The conviction comes after the Office for Rail Regulation reopened its prosecution of Network Rail following pressure from the girls' parents and the Transport Salaried Staff Association, amid claims that two safety documents were not disclosed to the Essex Coroner during the 2007 inquest.
Network Rail pleaded guilty to two charges under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Olivia's father, Chris Bazlinton, 63, said that any financial penalty for Network Rail would be merely "symbolic" and called for a truth and reconciliation meeting to find out what happened at Network Rail to delay their admission of guilt.
"People talk about justice," he said outside the court. "But there's no justice really. You can't bring Charlotte and Olivia back. But people must be brought to book. We need to make sure those who failed are named – otherwise there will be others who will think that they can fail and get away with it."
Network Rail's chief executive, David Higgins, apologised to the families and said that the company had reassessed all of the 6,500 level crossings in the UK and had closed 500 in recent years.
Charlotte's father, Reg Thompson, 54, said: "The horror of that day is always with us and the huge hole in our lives left by Charlie will never be filled. In the aftermath of the accident, Network Rail claimed the girls had acted recklessly and that somehow their youthful exuberance led directly to their deaths, as if exuberance itself is a crime. I never believed that they were the architects of their own terrible end."
The guilty pleas came days after 15-year-old Katie Littlewood was killed at another footpath crossing on the same stretch of track.
charlotte thompson and olivia bazlinton
The two girls were killed by a train in 2005
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