Corporate manslaughter case against Balfour Beatty bosses starts today

The Hatfield train crash was a “disaster waiting to happen” according to the prosecution QC’s opening statement at the corporate manslaughter trial today.

Prosecuting barrister Richard Lissack QC said that a rail fault on the London to Leeds line had been diagnosed 21 months before the accident and that replacement rail was ready on the site six months before the crash in October 2000, which killed four people.

Lissack said: “A simple step of imposing a speed restriction would mitigate or reduce danger… The problems were so bad and numerous that had things been done according to the book, Kings Cross would have been shut completely. This was no accident - it was a disaster waiting to happen.”

Lissack told the court how 35m of track “disintegrated beneath the train” as a result of a protracted backlog of faults on the line.

He argues that the defendants took a ‘cavalier attitude to safety’ by agreeing to reset a number of deadlines for overdue repairs.

The Old Bailey jury heard how the line was first discovered to be faulty in January 1999, and replacement track had been waiting to be fitted at the site since April 22. Despite this, no speed restrictions were put in place; a measure that Lissack suggests would have prevented the disaster.

The court heard how the defendants made a complicit arrangement by ‘operating a system of crisis management which was far outside the codified approach of doing it by the book’.

The five defendants in the case, two Balfour Beatty executives Anthony Walker and Nicholas Jeffries and three Railtrack bosses, face manslaughter and health and safety charges following the deaths of four passengers after a train derailment in October 2000, caused by broken track. The trial is expected to continue for a year.