The long-delayed inquest into the deaths of seven people in the Croydon tram crash in November 2016 has been delayed again – this time because of the change in distancing rules to prevent the spread of covid-19.
The inquest was due to begin at Croydon Town Hall on Monday. The lawyer representing some of the families said they were “very disappointed” at the postponement, but that they “accept the difficult decision”.
It was announced yesterday that Croydon’s covid-19 status is to be raised to Tier 2, or “High”, to come into effect from midnight tonight.
The coroner, Sarah Ormond-Walshe, responded to this news by issuing an adjournment direction yesterday, saying that it was impossible for her, or Croydon Council, to be able to stage the inquest in a safely socially distanced manner and still accommodate all the jury, lawyers, witnesses and families.
“I am very concerned about the jury,” Ormond-Walshe wrote.
“I do not think it is reasonable, given the increase in the Tier level for London and the infection rate in Croydon, to oblige a juror to spend the next few weeks in a room with 10 strangers.
“However, my team and I will continue as far as possible to take proactive steps, with a view to resuming, if at all possible, as soon as possible.”
Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Logan, 52, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, Mark Smith, 35, and Donald Collett, 62, were all killed in the crash.
The coroner said that the inquest could still be concluded before Christmas if it is able to begin within four weeks. The council will be carrying out a risk assessment at the Town Hall in two weeks’ time.
A statement from the South London Coroner’s office today said that Croydon has the fourth “highest rate of infection” for coronavirus of London’s 32 boroughs.
Ben Posford, a partner and head of catastrophic injury at London law firm Osbornes Law, is the lead solicitor for five of the seven families (the families of Logan, Seary, Rynkiewicz, Smith, and Collett).
Today, he told Inside Croydon, “The families are very disappointed by the adjournment, having been preparing for the start of the inquests for a long time.
“However, they accept the difficult decision that the senior coroner has had to make in light of the Covid crisis, and hope that the inquests can get underway soon.”
The derailment took place on the morning of November 9, 2016, and happened on a curve in the track close to the Sandilands tram stop. The crash left 61 people injured.
The inquest was expected to last 12 weeks, and hear arguments that human error and transport system failings were to blame.
An initial investigation found the tram was travelling at almost four times the line’s speed limit. The official report into the crash concluded Alfred Dorris, the driver, who was then aged 42, probably dozed off moments before the tram left the tracks.
No charges of corporate manslaughter were brought against Transport for London (TfL) or operator Tram Operations Ltd (TOL), a subsidiary of FirstGroup.
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There’s plenty of room in the Fairfield Halls