Coroner postpones tram crash inquest until Spring next year

The South London Coroner has postponed the inquest into the Croydon tram crash again, this time until next year.

The tram was going at four times the speed limit when it left the tracks at Sandilands in November 2016

Expected to last for 12 weeks, the inquest was due to have begun at Croydon Town Hall last month. It was first postponed because the Coroner could not guarantee the safety of the court, jurors, lawyers, witnesses and families in an enclosed environment once London’s covid-19 status was raised to Tier 2.

This further postponement comes despite the Coroner, Sarah Ormond-Walshe, having arranged to use the Fairfield Halls as an alternative venue, from November 16. With the country now going into a second covid-19 lockdown for at least four weeks, that plan has now been abandoned. The staging of the inquest remotely has also been rejected.

It was on the morning of November 9, 2016, when a tram, travelling from New Addington, left the tracks approaching the Sandilands stop.

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 crash left another 61 passengers injured.

In a letter to the families and their lawyers, Ormond-Walshe wrote, “The inquests into the Sandilands tragedy will not now commence on November 16. Instead, I propose to hear the inquests in the Spring of 2021…

“I am aware, of course, that courts are exempt from the lockdown. However, the question for me is whether it is essential to continue with this particular hearing now, and if not, whether it is better to wait until Spring 2021.

“I have listened carefully to the views of the Public Health Directorate in Croydon and have discussed the safety of both the Town Hall Chamber and Fairfield Halls with various officers of the Local Authority. I have also taken account of the fact that a number of individuals (jurors, witnesses and advocates) would be travelling to Croydon by public transport from other boroughs and from outside London (some of them from considerable distances which would necessitate staying in a hotel).

“I understand the desire of all participants, and especially the families of the deceased, to progress these inquests to a conclusion as soon as reasonably practicable. However, we are going into lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus…

The Fairfield Halls had been lined up as an alternative venue for the inquest

“In my judgment, it is not so essential that we proceed now rather than in, say, March or April 2021, that I should unnecessarily increase the risk to the health of participants. Nor is it appropriate to attempt to hold these inquests in a largely remote manner.”

Ben Posford, partner at London law firm Osbornes Law, is the lead solicitor for five of the seven families. He said, “Understandably the families are frustrated and upset by this latest postponement, and coming so near to the fourth anniversary of the tragedy on makes it even harder to bear.

“They sincerely hope the inquest can start without interruption in the spring.”

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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