WHEN TRAGEDY STRIKES, WHO IS TO BLAME?

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The Independent Online
Herald of Free Enterprise 6 March 1987

THE MENTAL IMAGE of the Herald sailing into the Channel with its bow doors open will be forever etched on national memory. The ferry sank in minutes off Zeebrugge with the loss of 193 lives after sea flooded the car deck.

The inquiry concentrated on human failings, a sleeping assistant boatswain, lack of delegation by management and an overall "malaise", and described P&O European Ferries as "infected with the disease of sloppiness".

The company and seven employees were charged with corporate manslaughter. The Old Bailey trial in 1990 collapsed after 27 days when the judge told the jury the prosecution had failed to provide a case of manslaughter, though he criticised the weakness of the law in tackling corporate responsibility for manslaughter. Most of the claims have been settled.

Clapham rail disaster 12 December 1988

IN BRITAIN'S worst rail disaster 35 people were killed and 113 injured. Two commuter trains collided when a driver correctly stopped to report a faulty signal.

The British Rail Board admitted liability for the crash, caused through careless work by signal engineers. BR was responsible under the "vicarious liability" principle and paid compensation reaching pounds 1m in some cases, but no one was prosecuted for manslaughter.

Last year the Health and Safety Executive said 2,000 slam-door train carriages would be replaced or severely modified by 2003. The HSE reported that the number of people killed on the railways jumped from 25 in 1997 to 48 in 1998.

Sinking of the Marchioness 20 August 1989

ON A CLEAR, moonlit night on the Thames, 51 people died when the tiny disco boat Marchioness collided with a massive Thames sand dredger, the Bowbelle. In what families felt was a final indignity, all but two of those found in the river had their hands surgically removed for fingerprinting, although only two were identified this way. The captain of the Bowbelle, Douglas Henderson, had spent the late afternoon drinking six pints of beer. He was twice tried for endangering life, and twice the jury failed to reach a verdict. Three years ago the Crown Prosecution Service ruled out further prosecutions because of "insufficient evidence", after an inquest jury decided the victims had been killed unlawfully.

Southall train crash 19 September 1997.

SEVEN DIED and 150 were hurt when a packed Great Western express train from Swansea to Paddington collided with an empty goods train in Southall, west London, derailing four packed carriages and crushing many of the passengers trapped inside.

Trials had been made of the Automatic Train Protection system, recommended in the official Clapham disaster report. The system is supposed to force drivers to stop at danger signals, prompting speculation that the system was not operating. On Friday charges of manslaughter against the driver, Larry Harrison, were dropped.

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