Judge throws out charges against Balfour Beatty and Railtrack executives.

Manslaughter charges against three executives from Railtrack and two from Balfour Beatty accused of killing the four people who died in the Hatfield train crash in 2000 have been thrown out by an Old Bailey judge. A charge of corporate manslaughter against Balfour Beatty has also been dropped.

Five months into the trial Mr Justice MacKay ordered the jury to find the men not guilty, but said he was not permitted to give his reasons. He told them: “I must ask you to accept my ruling, which does not affect one way or the other the important decisions you will have to make when considering verdicts on the health and safety counts.”

Balfour Beatty, Railtrack – which has since become Network Rail – and the five executives still face charges under the Health and Safety Act. They deny all charges.

Four passengers were killed when a nine-coach train, travelling at 115mph, was derailed by a broken rail in October 2000. Prosecutors have alleged that it was an accident waiting to happen; when he opened the case, Richard Lissack QC said that a faulty rail at the site of the crash had been identified, but left unrepaired, for 21 months. He said the speed restrictions had not been imposed on the area of the fault.

Speaking for the defence, Jonathan Goldberg QC told the court that it would be unfair to make the men scapegoats. He said they had worked in an industry that had been “under-funded and neglected by governments… for over 40 years.”

UCATT General Secretary, Alan Ritchie said that the decision added emphasis to the need for tougher sentences when the government introduces Corporate Manslaughter legislation.

He said “Here is yet another example of a failure to hold directors and companies to account for the deaths of innocent people. How many more times must this happen? It is the prospect of a jail sentence that will change the behaviour of company directors.’