A former Transport for London board member has written to the Attorney General to call for a second inquest into the causes of the 2016 tram crash at Sandilands. This follows the conclusion of the long-delayed inquest at Croydon Town Hall in July, in which the jury delivered a verdict of “accidental deaths” for the seven people killed in what was the worst tram disaster in Britain in a century.
“This is Hillsborough repeating itself,” Michael Liebreich has told Rail magazine.
“It took 25 years for those families to get the original inquest verdict quashed. This must not happen again.”
In common with the experience of Liverpool families who campaigned for years for a fresh inquiry into the deaths of 97 football fans at an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield in 1989, the families of the victims of the Sandilands tram crash say that the conduct of their inquest to be completely unsatisfactory.
They believe that the Coroner, Sarah Ormond-Walshe, was wrong when she stopped their legal team from cross-examining any officials from TfL or their contractors, First Group, and their operating company, Tram Operations Ltd.
The families now have an influential supporter in Liebreich, who chaired TfL’s safety audit panel between 2016 and 2018 when he was a board member.
As Inside Croydon has reported previously, Liebreich has accused TfL of a continuing cover-up over tram driver fatigue, with two adverse reports on the topic having been withheld from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch while it was working on its report into the Sandilands crash.
Now specialist magazine Rail, in its latest edition, has published a column by respected transport journalist Christian Wolmar which raises several further questions over the evidence-lite Coroner’s inquest and the TfL cover-up.
According to Wolmar’s report, Liebreich has written to the RAIB asking it to re-open its report to better include the findings from the two fatigue reviews.
Liebreich has also raised numerous additional flaws and omissions in the RAIB report.
RAIB did not consider the fact that six drivers had been sacked for falling asleep prior to the Sandilands disaster. “Given that the response by management to an admission of falling asleep was to sack the person concerned, Liebreich reckons that many such incidents went unreported,” Wolmar reports, not unreasonably.
The RAIB report also failed to include the fact that the Croydon tram driver, Alfred Dorris, had been taking medication for high blood pressure, a diuretic, which may have resulted in disturbing his sleep.
Leibreich’s letter to the Attorney General in support of the victims’ families demand for a fresh inquest, said: “RAIB did not so much as look at the Operating Agreement between First Group and TfL – yet this was the contract which governed their relationship, divided up safety responsibilities and lay at the core of the safety culture at the time of the crash.”
Liebreich and others have raised concerns that operators have effectively prioritised running to their timetable over passenger and staff safety. “It seems that they were running a tram system like a bus operation, and London’s record on bus safety is appalling,” Leibreich said.
Leibreich also questioned the all-too-cosy relationships between senior figures at TfL and the operators – “there was a revolving door between the two”, he said – naming Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport at the time of the accident, who was a former director of TOL. John Rymer, the managing director of TOL, was a former colleague of Daniels.
“None of this was considered by RAIB,” Leibreich said.
Wolmar writes, “The Sandilands accident needs a thorough investigation which sadly so far neither the RAIB nor the inquest process has delivered.”
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