Lawyer’s plea: ‘Save tram victims’ families further heartache’

Lawyers representing families of victims of the 2016 Croydon tram crash have today written to the Attorney General asking for a new inquest.

Still seeking answers: after nearly five years,  tram crash victims’  families are still seeking justice

Last month, after an inquest held at Croydon Town Hall, the jury concluded that the seven people who died in the derailment at the Sandilands did so as a result of an accident.

But lawyers from Osbornes Law have written to Attorney General Michael Ellis, citing multiple irregularities with the conduct of the inquest.

They state that Sarah Ormond-Walshe, Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for South London, interpreted the law incorrectly, resulting in the inquest not hearing crucial evidence.

It is exceedingly rare for inquests to be re-staged, but after families of victims launched a campaign over the outcome of the inquest into the Hillsborough Stadium disaster, in which 97 Liverpool fans were killed, in 2012 the Attorney General at the time, Dominic Grieve, referred the matter to the High Court which over-ruled the verdicts in the original inquests and ordered fresh inquests to be held.

At that second inquest, the jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing in respect of all victims. Their verdict was delivered in April 2016 – 27 years after the now infamous FA Cup semi-final.

Victims: From left, Mark Smith, Dane Chinnery, Phil Seary and Dorota Rynkiewicz (l-r) all died in the crash

The Croydon families’ lawyers are now asking Ellis to intervene in the same manner as his predecessor, Grieve. Their lawyer appears to have ruled out the families being able to go to Judicial Review, on the grounds that, without legal aid, they cannot afford the tens of thousands of pounds such court action might cost.

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 Junction on November 9 2016. Sixty-two of the 70 passsengers on board were injured, 19 seriously.

In his letter to Ellis, Ben Posford, Osbornes’ lead solicitor for the families of Logan, Seary, Rynkiewicz, Smith, and Collett, wrote: “We believe that it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another investigation be held.” Posford says that grounds for a referral to the High Court include “irregularity of proceedings and/or insufficiency of inquiry”.

Victims: From left Philip Logan, Donald Collett and Robert Huxley

The coroner at the nine-week inquest refused to let the court hear evidence from anybody potentially responsible for the crash, instead relying on evidence from the Rail Accident Investigation Board. She used precedent in a previous inquest of a helicopter crash to block evidence being heard from Transport for London or First Group’s Trams Operations Limited.

The coroner “refused to call any eye-witnesses who were in the crashed tram, nor any tram drivers or trainers, nor any managers from the tram company, nor any infrastructure managers”,  Posford says in his letter.

“She refused to call the defaulting tram driver himself. She refused to call experts who had reported on inadequate risk assessment, inadequate signage and inadequate regulation of the industry.

“These decisions have caused distress and injustice to the families of the deceased and also caused a public outcry. If the decision is right in law then in all future air/marine/train crash inquests, no family will ever hear from and question those who were responsible for the deaths of their loved ones and no experts other than RAIB staff will be heard.

“If this decision is right the Accident Investigation Boards are now all-powerful, all-seeing experts; dispensers of justice; determiners of fact and curtains behind which all defaulters will be kept from the public eye. Inquests and juries are made irrelevant.”

Michael Ellis QC: the Attorney General has been asked to refer the tram crash inquest to the High Court

Posford criticised Ormond-Walshe, saying that her “interpretation… was far too broad and has the effect that in every mass fatality public transport accident in future, the inquest will never again hear from any of those who are directly responsible. Instead, the inquests will simply be a rubber-stamping exercise of the AIB report relating to that incident, which renders the inquest an expensive farce.

“We also invite you to meet some of the families involved to better understand the effect this decision has had on them. The families feel deeply let down by the inquest process and can see no point in having such an inquiry and then calling none of those responsible to give evidence to the jury.

“The families are not rich. They cannot afford a judicial review. If they can gain legal aid they will have to start a judicial review within three months of 28 June 2021.

“You could save them the heartache, stress and burden by exercising your powers.”

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2 Responses to Lawyer’s plea: ‘Save tram victims’ families further heartache’

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    Thankfully there is someone taking the mater forward. Irrespective of result, all involved and witnesses should be heard in an impartial albeit formal setting. The A.I.B board and investigators are usually very experienced and professional and are focused on determining the cause of the incident. But they are not a court.

    Irrespective of related case as a precedent would it not have been in the Courts interest(and to seek the whole truth and nothing but the truth) to continue to seek to hear as many relevant witnesses to the matter as possible especially those involved?

    it is easy to give a statement or provide documentary evidence in the workplace but another matter to do this in a court room, out of ones comfort zone and unsupported by aides. Add in some unheard conflicting testimony and at those times real truth happens as many Courts can attest from Employment Tribunals to High Courts.

    There are clear matters in the public interest that monetary constraints on court access and costs to the public purse should be relaxed for. I would suggest that this is one of those.

    The railways and all transportation are seeking to get people back on board after Covid. Failing to publicly appear and explain why people died on your system does zero for confidence and trust.

    Courts should hear all evidence again not doing so or providing full acceptable explanations is at best unhelpful and again does little for confidence and trust in the Court system.

  2. moyagordon says:

    Seems crazy that crucial evidence isn’t heard in investigating this kind of incident. You have to question the motive for not hearing it, and is it to protect certain people or organisations? I hope the families get legal aid for a Judicial Review.

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