Croydon tram crash driver will not face prosecution after seven killed

'Evidence does not support' gross negligence manslaughter charges, says Crown Prosecution Service

Chris Baynes
Thursday 31 October 2019 14:49
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Croydon tram was travelling over three times speed limit

The driver of a tram which crashed in Croydon, killing seven people, will not face prosecution.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded “the evidence does not support” gross negligence manslaughter charges being brought against Alfred Dorris, who is believed to have briefly fallen asleep before the disaster in 2016.

There will also be no charges of corporate manslaughter brought against Transport for London (TfL) or the tram network’s operator, a subsidiary of FirstGroup.

British Transport Police (BTP) said “every scrap of possible evidence has been scrutinised”.

The tram was travelling at almost four times the speed limit in darkness and heavy rain when it derailed near Sandilands stop early on 9 November. Seven passengers died and 51 people were injured.

Mr Dorris, of Beckenham, southeast London, was arrested at the scene and questioned on suspicion of manslaughter.

BTP said its “complex” investigation into the crash had involved detectives assessing thousands of pieces of evidence, including forensics from the scene, analysis of phone records, and hundreds of interviews.

Following “lengthy consultation” with police, prosecutors concluded the evidence did not meet the threshold required to bring manslaughter charges against the driver, TfL, or FirstGroup subsidiary Tram Operations Ltd.

Jenny Hopkins, CPS head of special crime, said other charges including causing death by dangerous driving had also been considered but “the evidence did not support a prosecution”.

“We fully recognise the impact this decision will have on families who have lost their loved ones and we have offered to meet with them to explain our reasons in full,” she added.

Detective Superintendent Gary Richardson, who led the police investigation, said: “We know that this latest update may not be the news that many, including the family members who lost loved ones, had hoped for. But we are satisfied that every scrap of possible evidence has been scrutinised.”​

A 2017 investigation found Mr Dorris may have drifted into a ”microsleep” before the tram speed round a sharp bend at 45mph.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said it is “probable” the driver “temporarily lost awareness” on a straight section of track and may have fallen asleep for up to 49 seconds before the crash.

Explaining its decision not to prosecute, the CPS said: “By far the most likely explanation of what happened in this case is that the driver fell asleep, or into a microsleep.

“If this is what happened, it is clear that this was an unintended and involuntary act. There was no compelling evidence that the driver had done anything which he ought to have known could adversely affect his concentration or make him susceptible to falling asleep whilst driving the tram, nor was there evidence that he had culpably contributed to his negligent failure to drive the tram in a safe manner.

This meant Mr Dorris’s actions fell short of gross negligence, which requires conduct to be “so reprehensible or bad in all the circumstances as to amount to a criminal act or omission,” the CPS said. It added: “Even serious mistakes are not to be equated with gross negligence.”

A solicitor representing Andrzej Rynkiewicz, whose wife Dorota died in the crash, said prosecutors’ decision would be “​devastating for many of the families, who assumed that the delay of almost three years meant charges might be brought at the end of the investigation”.

“Understandably the police wished to explore every avenue and gather potential evidence, but for the bereaved families the process has meant an interminable wait for answers as to what happened to their loved ones and why,” said Ben Posford, a partner at Osbornes Law.

He added Ms Rynkiewicz’s family now hoped an inquest into her death would shed light on “systemic failures that led to this tragic event” so that “answers are provided for the families of the bereaved and lessons are learned for the future”.

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RAIB’s report found the risks at the corner where the crash happened had not been fully grasped by tram managers, partly due to some drivers feeling a “reluctance” to report their own mistakes.

Victims’ families have said they also want to know why an automatic braking system, installed on the Croydon tram network following the disaster, was not fitted earlier.

“Whilst no criminal charges will be brought against the driver of the tram or the tram operators, which is regrettable, this in no way exonerates the tram operators,” said Trevor Sterling, a partner at Moore Blatch solicitors, who represents several victims.

He added: “It is important to remember that negligence has been admitted by Transport for London.”

The Office of Rail and Road is continuing to investigate whether breaches of health and safety legislation contributed to the crash.

BTP said it would now work with HM Coroner to begin preparations for the victims’ inquests.

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