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Hoon under fire for stalled crash inquiry

Potters Bar families turn on Transport Secretary as decision delayed once more

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Monday 24 November 2008 01:00 GMT

Families of the Potters Bar rail crash victims have criticised Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, for delaying his decision over whether to grant a public inquiry into the accident.

Six years after the crash in which seven people were killed and 76 injured, a full government investigation has yet to be completed.

The London-to-Kings Lynn train derailed as it approached the Hertfordshire station in May 2002, catapulting a carriage on to the platform. A faulty set of points was blamed after bolts that were meant to secure them were found nearby.

The inquest into Potters Bar was put on hold in February 2007 after a similar crash involving faulty points in Grayrigg, Cumbria. An elderly woman died and 86 people were injured.

After the Grayrigg crash, victims' families demanded that the Government order a joint public inquiry. The coroner who held the inquest into Grayrigg, Mr Justice Sullivan, also backed a joint public inquiry.

However, Mr Hoon, who took over the transport portfolio last month, has refused to make a final decision. Instead, he has written to everyone affected by the crash, including rail companies and those who lost loved ones, to consult them on what should be done next.

"Letters have been sent to organisations and individuals who were affected by either accident and with whom the Department for Transport has previously had contact," Mr Hoon said. "I am also interested in the views of others directly involved in either accident."

Mr Hoon's letter has been painted unfavourably as a stalling tactic; and of being worded so as to lead to the conclusion that a costly joint public inquiry is not needed – a conclusion shared by the rail industry.

Louise Christian, a solicitor who represents several of those injured in the Potters Bar crash and has been involved in the fight for a public inquiry from the start, said it was time for Mr Hoon to make a decision on the issue.

"It is just another delaying tactic by the Government," she said. "Mr Hoon knows what the families of those affected want. They have said what they want for a long time. That is a joint public inquiry into Potters Bar and Grayrigg.

"This is not a time for Mr Hoon to be consulting on what to do next. It is time for him to make a decision. I am not hopeful we will get what we have wanted for so long. The Government has always been more willing to listen to the rail industry."

The Conservatives also accused Mr Hoon of dragging his feet. "It seems extraordinary that six years after the Potters Bar crash this government has failed to bring its investigation to a close," said Theresa Villiers, the shadow Transport Secretary. "This is really hard on those whose lives were devastated by the tragedy, making it even more difficult for them to move on from the incident. Rather than let this drag out indefinitely, the Secretary of State for Transport must now see the lessons are learnt and implemented."

Network Rail, responsible for maintaining Britain's rail infrastructure, said that it had received the letter from Mr Hoon and was considering its response.

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