Network Rail to be prosecuted over level crossing deaths


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The Independent Online

Network Rail (NR) is to be prosecuted over the level crossing deaths of two teenage girls in 2005, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) announced today.

The ORR said it had started criminal proceedings against NR for breaches of health and safety law which led to the deaths of the girls - Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13 - at Elsenham station crossing in Essex in December 2005.

The first hearing is due to take place at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court in Essex on January 31.

On December 3 2005, the girls used Elsenham station footpath crossing (owned and operated by NR) to reach the station platform. The station's footpath crossing was fitted with warning lights and yodel alarms.

A London to Cambridge train passed over the crossing with the red lights and yodel sounding - a warning for foot passengers not to cross the footpath crossing.

After the train passed, the lights remained on and the alarms continued to sound as another train, travelling to Stansted airport in Essex, was going to pass through the station.

The girls opened the wicket gates and walked on to the crossing. They were both struck by the Stansted train and killed.

The ORR said NR faced two charges under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and one charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The ORR said: "These result from NR's failure to carry out proper assessments of the risks to the safety of members of the public using the footpath crossing or to have in place adequate arrangements to underpin these assessments."

The prosecution follows the conclusion of ORR's reopened investigation into the deaths of the girls.

The investigation, which was originally closed in May 2007, was reopened by ORR in February when a further NR document was brought to ORR's attention.

ORR's railway safety director Ian Prosser said today: "After careful consideration and examination of Network Rail documents not previously seen by ORR, we have concluded that there is enough evidence, and that it is in the public interest, to bring criminal proceedings against NR for serious breaches of health and safety law which led to the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton and Charlotte Thompson at Elsenham station footpath crossing in December 2005.

"Legal papers have been lodged at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court today.

"My thoughts are with the families of Olivia and Charlotte. ORR will do everything it can to ensure that the prosecution proceeds as quickly as possible."

ORR investigated the incident during 2005 and 2006. The coroner's inquest, held in January 2007, returned a verdict of accidental death, and ORR closed its investigation in May 2007.

Olivia's father Chris Bazlinton said today that it was right that people "will be brought to account".

He said: "We never felt that we had heard the whole story. Back in 2006, when the various inquiries were held, there seemed to be unanswered questions, and we were very disappointed with the inquest, at which NR's lawyers squashed discussion on rail safety.

"We are pleased that ORR has decided to take action. None of this will bring back Liv or Charlie but, hopefully, other families will not have to go through what we have."

NR chief executive David Higgins said: "This was a deeply tragic event.

"Since this accident in 2005 we have launched a major programme to update the assessments of all our 7,000 level crossings, improving risk management and safety, and we have closed over 500 crossings since 2009.

"When it comes to safety, we will never be complacent and we continue to work alongside local communities, all the relevant authorities and other stakeholders to make our level crossings safer still."

Rail union TSSA has been campaigning for a public inquiry into the Elsenham accident.

The union's leader Manuel Cortes said today: "I sincerely hope that the criminal trial brings some level of comfort and closure to the families of both Liv and Charlie.

"They have suffered long years of anguish seeking truth and justice for their daughters and the full truth about just how lethally dangerous that level crossing really was."