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Public Inquiry will reveal cover up over Elsenham Inquest

16 May 2011

A public inquiry will be the best route to uncover who led a cover up at Network Rail over the deaths of two school girls on an unsafe level crossing, the TSSA rail union said today

A public inquiry will be the best route to uncover who led a cover up at Network Rail over the deaths of two school girls on an unsafe level crossing, the TSSA rail union said today.

Two key safety documents which could have prevented the deaths of the teenage girls at Elsenham in 2005 were not disclosed by NR to the Essex Coroner at the inquest in 2007, said Gerry Doherty, union general secretary at his union’s annual conference in Norwich.

He disclosed the details of the reports, one in 2001 and one in 2002, which called for the crossing to be made safe by either building a bridge over it, a subway beneath or locking the pedestrian gates.

Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed on the crossing by an express train when they opened the gates to cross the line on a Christmas shopping trip in December 2005.

"The inquest was a travesty because neither the Coroner, the families or the rail regulator, the ORR, were told about them.

"Senior management within NR must have decided to keep them secret because they only wanted the Coroner to look at a verdict of accidental deaths rather than something more serious such as unlawful killing.

He also revealed that NR persuaded the coroner, Caroline Beasley Murray, to exclude the evidence of an expert independent witness who would have been critical of NR’s risk assessment policies at level crossings.

Ian Ferguson, from the Health and Safety Laboratory, had prepared a report criticising the system as "not suitable or sufficient". His evidence was withheld from the jury after legal objections by NR.

"It seems that NR were determined that the jury should not hear any criticism of their risk assessment policies. The only report before the jury, from April 2005, was described by the ORR as "substantially flawed", said the union leader.

He welcomed the fact that the ORR had now re-opened their inquiry into Elsenham but said a public inquiry was still needed if the families were to secure justice.

If the ORR now prosecuted NR under health and safety legislation, the families would face a similar situation to the families involved in the Potters Bar tragedy case at St Albans Crown Court last week.

NR would be given a big fine and leave the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Meanwhile, those guilty of the cover up would not be indentified.

"A public inquiry is the only satisfactory way for the families now to get public justice," said Mr Doherty.
"The public pays the majority of the bills for NR and they are entitled to answers as well."

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