The families of the Croydon tram crash victims today demanded a new inquest into their deaths after a jury concluded they died as a result of an accident and were not unlawfully killed.
Seven passengers died and a further 51 were injured when the tram derailed in South London on November 9, 2016. Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, 35, both from Croydon, were killed in the crash.
On its tenth day of deliberations at Croydon Town Hall, the ten-person jury reached a unanimous conclusion that their deaths were a result of an accident, saying that the tram driver had become ‘disorientated’.
Meanwhile it can now be reported that South London senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe refused to call a number of people who the victims’ families wanted to give evidence about alleged safety failings.
Those potential witnesses include senior managers of operator Tram Operations Ltd – a subsidiary of FirstGroup – and Transport for London, plus other experts and tram drivers.
The victims’ families will now call on the Attorney General Michael Ellis QC to apply to the High Court to grant a new inquest. They will also seek to judicially review Ms Ormond-Walshe’s decision on which witnesses to call.
The seven victims of the Croydon tram crash in South London in 2016 died as a result of an accident, a jury concluded today
Mr Logan’s granddaughter, Danielle Wynne, said today: ‘I’m so upset and angry. It’s not an accident. Someone is to blame. We want lessons to be learned so that no other family has to go through this.’
She added: ‘The evidence should have been heard. If you want a true and accurate story you need to go straight to the horse’s mouth. To not hear that evidence is justice denied. If you’re going to deal with this case you need to know every fact about it. It’s not just straight down the middle.’
Mr Smith’s mother, Jean Smith, 64, 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 (Transport for London), 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.’
At Croydon Town Hall today, the foreman of the jury said: ‘The tram driver became disorientated, which caused loss of awareness in his surroundings, probably due to a lack of sleep.
Police and transport workers surround the overturned tram near Sandilands station in Croydon in November 2016
‘As a result of which, the driver failed to brake in time and drove his tram towards a tight curve at excessive speed. The tram left the rails and overturned onto its right side, as a result of which the deceased was ejected from the tram and killed.’
Ben Posford, partner and head of catastrophic injury at London law firm Osbornes Law, representing the families of five of the seven victims of the Croydon tram crash, 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 one’s deaths.
‘They have had an agonising wait for justice but have been let down by the process that has allowed the managers of TfL (Transport for London) and TOL (operator Tram Operations Ltd) 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.
Family of the Croydon tram crash victims stand together outside Croydon Town Hall in South London in May
The tram derailed near the Sandilands stop in Croydon, South London, on November 9, 2016, killing seven people
‘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.’
British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle said: ‘Today the jury in the Croydon tram crash Inquest have returned their verdict and concluded that seven people were accidentally killed in November 2016.
‘While the inquest process has now concluded, the memory of that tragic day is one that will stay with us forever as an organisation.
‘Throughout this, the seven men and women who died, along with their loved ones, and everyone else affected by that terrible day, have remained at the very forefront of our minds. They will never be forgotten.’
Croydon tram crash inquest was a ‘missed opportunity’ because of lack of evidence, says lawyer for families
The Croydon tram crash inquest was ‘a missed opportunity’ as a result of the coroner’s decision not to hear more evidence, a lawyer representing the families of those killed has claimed.
Ben Posford, head of catastrophic injury at Osbornes Law, told the PA news agency his clients are ‘frustrated and disappointed’ as allegations of safety failings did not feature.
South London senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe ruled that potential witnesses such as senior figures at Croydon tram operator Tram Operations Ltd (TOL) would not give evidence. Her decision was based on what happened at an inquest into the deaths of four men killed in a helicopter crash in Norfolk in 2014.
Miss Ormond-Walshe ruled that the case meant she was ‘not permitted to call further evidence’ in relation to the tram crash because there was ‘no credible evidence that the investigation of the RAIB ( Rail Accident Investigation Branch) is incomplete, flawed or deficient’.
Jurors at the inquest heard from inspectors at the RAIB, which published a detailed report into the crash in December 2017. Other witnesses included representatives from British Transport Police and Jim Snowden, the former chief engineer at operator Tramtrack Croydon Ltd.
Mr Posford said the interpretation of the Norfolk decision was ‘too broad’ and could arguably mean a jury sitting on any inquest into a train, tram, air or bus disaster would be unable to hear from key figures involved.
He added: ‘They will never get to hear from any of the managers who took decisions that led to that disaster, or indeed any of the regulators or auditors who should have been doing their jobs in the background.
‘The families were hoping to hear direct evidence from the management in particular at TOL, to explain why certain decisions have been made. For example, why was there no signage in the tunnel to warn drivers to start slowing down at the right point?
‘Why take the decision not to include any drivers in the risk assessment, which meant that the risk of fatalities from an overturned tram was effectively missed. And why was there no automatic braking system in place at that time?’
Mr Posford went on: ‘This was a missed opportunity. The families are frustrated and disappointed that they never got to hear vital evidence from the managers and the auditors from TOL and TfL (Transport for London), never got to hear those witnesses questioned.’
Danielle Wynne, whose grandfather Philip Logan, 52, died in the crash, said: ‘The evidence should have been heard. If you want a true and accurate story you need to go straight to the horse’s mouth.
‘To not hear that evidence is justice denied. If you’re going to deal with this case you need to know every fact about it. It’s not just straight down the middle.’
Ms Wynne, 30, of Rochester, Kent, added that the ‘blame is being put on the driver’ and the ‘focus has been taken away’ from the ‘failings’ of TOL and TfL.