2005-10-09

Health & Money: Record Fines under Health & Safety

Two firms were yesterday fined a total of 13.5_million_GBP for their parts in the Hatfield rail disaster, which a judge described as one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence he had ever seen. Mr.Justice Mackay said 750_000 passengers' lives had been put at risk due to the broken rail which caused the derailment of a London to Leeds express on the east coast main line. The crash killed four people and injured 102. 'Balfour Beatty', responsible for track maintenance at the time, was fined 10_million_GBP and 'Network Rail' was fined 3.5_million_GBP for breaking safety rules before the crash in 2000-10. The fines are an English record. The companies were also ordered to contribute 300_000_GBP each to the estimated 8.5_million_GBP prosecution costs following the trial at 'The Old Bailey' in London, England. 'Network Rail' was convicted 2005-09 of breaching 'The Health and Safety Act'. 'Balfour Beatty' admitted the charge earlier. In J2005-07, the court dismissed manslaughter and safety charges against three executives from 'Railtrack' -- 'Network Rail's' predecessor -- and two from 'Balfour Beatty'. The fines compare with the previous English record of 2_million_GBP against 'Thames Trains' after 'The Paddington Crash' in 1999. 'Transco' was fined 15_million_GBP at 'The High Court' in Edinburgh in 2005-08 after a leaking gas main led to the deaths of a family of four in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, also in 1999. Legal experts said the level of yesterday's fines -- and that imposed on 'Transco' -- showed judges on both sides of the border were getting tough over such offences. They added that, while some bereaved relatives would always regard fine levels as too low, such penalties had a major impact on the firms' reputations. 'The Hatfield Crash' led to massive disruption to the entire rail network while detailed checks on the tracks were carried out. A faulty rail at the site was identified 21 months before the crash, but left unrepaired -- although a replacement rail had been delivered and left alongside it for six months. The judge, who has handled similar cases for 30 years, said:
'I regard 'Balfour Beatty' as one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high risk industry I have seen. 'Balfour Beatty's failure lay at the top of the scale.'
'Network Rail' has since taken railway maintenance in-house, although it emerged 2005-10-08, that 'Balfour Beatty' had won a 110_million_GBP contract to upgrade electrification equipment on the west coast main line. The judge said:
'No-one can predict the future, but the risks of such a tragedy had been reduced by the action of "Network Rail". 'The elimination of one of the indefensible features of the 1996 [rail] privatisation -- the separation of the ownership and control of the track from its maintenance -- is now gone. 'Perhaps that is one good thing resulting from this disastrous affair.'
TUC general secretary Mr.Brendan Barber, the , yesterday called on ministers to speed up their plans for a new corporate manslaughter law in England. An expert group has just reported on the issue to The Scottish Justice Minister Ms. Cathy Jamieson. Mr.Barber said:
'Today's decision shows the courts are now beginning to take health and safety breaches more seriously. But the families of those killed will still feel cheated that no senior executives are to face punishment as a result of their safety crimes.'
The general secretary of the RMT, Mr.Bob. Crow said:
'Compared with the carnage caused, these fines are a paltry amount -- and this is recycled public money anyway.'
Ms.Audrey Arthur, whose son Steve was killed in the crash, said:
'I don't think justice was done. 'I can take no satisfaction from the fines today. 'Money is nothing, especially to people like this.'
Mr.David Leckie, a partner specialising in health and safety with law firm 'Maclay Murray & Spens', said the fines showed prosecutions under existing laws had been effective. He said a corporate killing law could be more limited in scope, and doubted whether it would have led to higher fines. He added:
'These fines are a big hit, which are not insurable or tax deductible, and the impact on the companies is much more than just financial. 'We are seeing a huge increase in fines for this type of offence, which shows the English and Scottish courts have decided to "beef up" the penalties "dished out".'
He said 'The Health and Safety Act', which was used in both the Hatfield and Larkhall cases, included unlimited fines and the prosecution of individuals. However, he admitted the impact of such fines could fuel the growing risk-averse culture in the rail industry, which has substantially increased costs and delayed new projects. He said:
'Safety is a very difficult balance.'
'Balfour Beatty and Network Rail fined £13.5m over Hatfield crash ', Alastair Dalton, The Scotsman, 2005-10-09, Su Links:

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