‘Justice has not been done today’, says mother of one of those killed in the 2016 Sandilands tram disaster. ‘The inquest has created more anguish and pain because we have been left with so many unanswered questions’
The families of seven passengers killed when the tram they were taking to go to work early on the morning of November 9 2016 announced today that they would call on the Attorney General to apply to the High Court to order a new inquest.
The families of the victims branded the inquest a “farce”, after the jury today delivered a majority verdict of accidental death.
They will also seek a Judicial Review over the way that Sarah Ormond-Walshe, the senior coroner for South London, handled the 10-week inquest at Croydon Town Hall. The coroner issued a ruling which banned the inquest from hearing any evidence from the management of Transport for London and First Group’s Tram Operations Limited.
Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Logan, 52, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, and Robert Huxley, 63, all from New Addington, and Mark Smith, 35, and Donald Collett, 62, from Croydon died in the crash at Sandilands, while 62 of the 70 on board were injured, 19 seriously.
Jean Smith, the mother of Mark Smith, said: “I am bitterly disappointed as justice has not been done today.
“It has been a total farce as we have only heard half of the evidence and no one who could potentially have been responsible for the crash has been called as a witness.
“It’s morally wrong that we haven’t been able to hear from anybody from TfL, TOL or the driver during the proceedings, whatever legal precedent says. It feels like they have been able to hide from giving evidence and it simply isn’t fair or just. Justice has been suffocated because of the coroner’s ruling.
“All we want as families is justice for our loved ones, yet four and half years on, the inquest has created more anguish and pain because we have been left with so many unanswered questions.
“We have been asked to accept the findings of the RAIB without question, but this is completely unjust. Our legal team will be writing to the Attorney General to ask him to seek an order for a new inquest and separately, to seek permission for judicial review.
“This fight is not over.”
Over the course of two months, the inquest jury heard evidence from various inspectors from the Rail Accident Investigation Board, but not from other potentially key witnesses.
Andrew Ritchie QC, the lawyer leading on the case for five of the families, asked the coroner to also hear evidence from, and the cross-examination of the management of TfL and TOL. The coroner refused.
Ben Posford, partner at Osbornes Law, said, “The families of those who died are understandably angry and upset at today’s conclusion and that they have been unable to hear from those responsible for the systemic failings that led to their loved ones’ deaths.
“They have had an agonising wait for justice but have been let down by the process that has allowed the managers of TfL and TOL to dodge giving evidence and avoid giving the families the answers they so desperately need. Instead of gaining a greater understanding of how and why their loved ones died, they have been badly let down.
“Ultimately they feel that nobody has been held accountable for the tragic events almost five years ago and will keep fighting for justice for their loved ones. As a result, we will be pursuing the legal options open to us by calling on the Attorney General to apply to the High Court for a new inquest. The families will also be considering Judicial Review proceedings against the coroner, to get the answers they deserve.”
Ritchie was quite adamant in expressing his view that the coroner had made a significant error of judgement, and one which meant that neither TfL nor TOL could be held accountable for the manner in which they have managed the tram network.
“This coroner has got the law wrong and that has deprived the families and public of the age-old right to hear evidence from those accountable for this dreadful tragedy,” Ritchie said today.
“That needs changing by a higher court very quickly.”
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s 2018 report concluded that the driver either fell asleep or became disorientated in the Sandilands tunnel.
They also concluded that TOL’s risk assessments and safety precautions against their drivers’ human failings were inadequate.
Read more: No one to blame. Or no one cares? Tram crash case dropped
Read more: TfL safety audit kept secret from crash investigators
Read more: Driver of crashed tram ‘too unwell’ to give evidence at inquest
Read more: TfL considered cancelling tram contract after 2016 crash
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