Parents guilty over railway deaths

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A husband and wife could be jailed after they were convicted yesterday of the manslaughter of two children – one their own daughter – through gross negligence after allowing them to play on a railway line during a picnic.

Sophie George, seven, and Kymberley Allcock, eight, were killed after being hit by a 60mph Sprinter train close to their home in Tre'r-ddol, near Aberystwyth, west Wales, on 29 July last year.

Gareth Edwards, 34, and his wife, Amanda, 35, were found guilty of the manslaughter charges after the jury considered the verdict for four hours.

The couple left four children to play on the railway line unattended for 30 minutes, the court was told.

Two brothers of the girls were lucky to escape injury or death as they played inches from the track at the time of the tragedy.

The Edwards were released from Swansea Crown Court yesterday on unconditional bail for the preparation of reports into their backgrounds, and will be sentenced later. But the judge, Mr Justice Richards, warned them: "All options remain open."

The case was brought to trial after the father of one of the girls hired a solicitor to gather evidence against the couple after his traumatised son told him that Gareth Edwards had given the children permission to play on the track.

After the verdict Tony Allcock revealed he would be claiming compensation against the couple and for the psychological damage caused to his son, Matthew, who witnessed the deaths.

The Edwards took Sophie, who was Amanda's daughter and Gareth's stepdaughter, along with Kymberley Allcock, their new baby, Matthew, and the girls' brothers, Matthew, who was 11 at the time, and Christopher George, who was aged nine, for a picnic on the side of the railway line.

The girls died after being hit by a train while lying on a railway bridge crossing the Dyfi estuary dropping stones through the track.

"Their conduct was condoned and even encouraged by the defendants, who were sitting close by without a care in the world," said Leighton Davies QC, for the prosecution.

The defendants said that they did not allow the children to play on the track and that they were never out of their view for more than two minutes during the afternoon.

Railtrack is facing prosecution for not acting after a stile near the bridge where the girls were killed had been erected without permission. It was allegedly spotted by an inspector, who recommended its removal, but nothing was done.

After the case Detective Chief Inspector Miles Flood of British Transport Police said: "Children need to be protected, as adults we have a duty to ensure that they are. In this case that didn't happen and the results were devastating. Our sympathy today must go to all those, including the defendants, who knew and now mourn Kymberley Allcock and Sophie George."

He added: "A custodial sentence is not necessary to get the message across that railways are a dangerous place. The Edwards have suffered enough already."

Mei Li, the solicitor representing Mr Allcock, confirmed that he would be launching a civil damages claim against the Edwards, including compensation for the ordeal suffered by Matthew. She said the verdict did not "ease the continuing grief" of Kymberley's family.

Rod Muttram, chief executive of Railway Safety, the Railtrack subsidiary in charge of trackside safety, said: "While I deeply sympathise with the parents and greatly regret the death of their children, it is extremely important that the public, and parents in particular, recognise the dangers of trespassing on the railway."