Thursday 22 July 2021 2:20 pm

Croydon tram crash: Accidental death verdict a 'total farce'

The victims of the Croydon tram crash died as a result of an accident, and were not unlawfully killed, the jury at the inquest into their deaths has concluded.

Seven passengers died and a further 62 were injured when a tram derailed in south London on November 9 2016.

Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, 35, both from Croydon, were killed in the crash.

On its 10th day of deliberations at Croydon Town Hall, south London, the 10-person jury reached a unanimous conclusion that their deaths were a result of an accident.

However, the verdict met with dismay from the families of the victims, who said that “justice had been suffocated” by the decision.

Jean Smith, 64, mother of Mark Smith, described the proceedings as a “total farce”.

“We have only heard half of the evidence and no one who could potentially have been responsible for the crash has been called as a witness”, she said.

“It’s morally wrong that we haven’t been able to hear from anybody from TfL, TOL or the driver during the proceedings, whatever legal precedent says. It feels like they have been able to hide from giving evidence and it simply isn’t fair or just. Justice has been suffocated because of the coroner’s ruling.”

Lawyers for the families say they will now seek to judicially review the coroner’s interpretation of the law.

Ben Posford, partner at London law firm Osbornes Law, who represented five of the seven families, said: “The families of those who died are understandably angry and upset at today’s conclusion and that they have been unable to hear from those responsible for the systemic failings that led to their loved one’s deaths.

“They have had an agonising wait for justice but have been let down by the process that has allowed the managers of TfL and TOL to dodge giving evidence and avoid giving the families the answers they so desperately need. Instead of gaining a greater understanding of how and why their loved ones died, they have been badly let down.

“Ultimately they feel that nobody has been held accountable for the tragic events almost five years ago and will keep fighting for justice for their loved ones. As a result, we will be pursuing the legal options open to us by calling on the Attorney General to apply to the High Court for a new inquest. The families will also be considering judicial review proceedings against the coroner, to get the answers they deserve.

Neil Garratt, London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, said that the inquest looked “like a whitewash”.

“Both Transport for London and the tram operator have serious questions to answer, but neither was even called to give evidence. Hopes that the inquest would finally bring closure are dashed, so the pursuit of justice continues.””

Questions remain despite verdict

It took more than four years for the inquest into their deaths to begin, with several delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The hearings were initially scheduled to last for thirteen weeks upon commencing in May, but after just seven weeks the jury were invited to give their verdict.

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The coroner, Sarah Ormond-Walshe, said that the jury could return a verdict of either unlawful killing or accidental death.

But with no decision having been made after eight days of deliberation, she allowed the jury to come to a majority verdict.

The Sandilands crash was the first tram incident in the United Kingdom in which passengers died since 1959. In addition to the seven deaths, 62 people were injured.

A report from the Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB), published a year after the incident, said that driver error was the most likely cause of the accident.

It said that the driver, Alfred Dorris, had likely had a “microsleep”, causing him to be disoriented when he left the tunnel.

But as City A.M. has reported over the last year, a series of audits carried out prior to the Croydon tram crash had highlighted safety issues like fatigue management.

Despite raising concerns that the fatigue management practices of TOL – the First Group subsidiary that runs the tram network – were “not always in line with published industry practice”, RAIB concluded in its report that it was “not a factor in the accident”.

However, in response to City A.M.’s reporting, RAIB’s conclusions have been called into question by a number of interested parties.

Former TfL safety panel Michael Liebriech wrote to the body to criticise its findings, saying that the audits showed  a pattern of weak fatigue management of the Croydon Tram spanning the years 2014 to 2017, as well as a failing safety audit system within TfL which repeatedly gave a clean bill of health to operations later heavily critiqued in your report.”

Both TfL and First Group have defended their actions in the aftermath of the Croydon tram crash, saying they had co-operated with all investigations and implemented additional safety measures on the network.

However, earlier this year it was revealed that there were three near misses on the tram network in 2020, including a slow-speed derailment.