Families brand Croydon tram crash inquest 'a farce' after accidental death verdict

Tap above to watch video report by Simon Harris

The victims of the Croydon tram crash died as a result of an accident and were not unlawfully killed, the jury at the inquest into their deaths has concluded at Croydon Town Hall.

Seven people died and a further 51 were injured when a tram derailed in south London on November 9 2016.

Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, both from Croydon, were killed in the crash.

Victims of the Croydon tram crash

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.

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.

Sarah 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 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.

Victims' families branded the proceedings "a farce" and claimed "justice had been suffocated" as the coroner banned the inquest from hearing from the management of Transport for London and First Group’s Tram Operations.

Scene of the Croydon tram crash, in which seven people died

Jean Smith, 64, 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."

The families will call upon the Attorney General to apply to the High Court to order a new inquest.

During the seven-week inquest, the jury heard that the tram toppled over and spun off the tracks near the Sandilands stop after hitting a curve at 45mph, despite a 12mph speed restriction being in place.

All of the fatalities had been either fully or partially thrown out of the tram through the windows or doors when the glass shattered.

Emergency crews at the scene after a tram overturned in Croydon in 2016

Simon French, chief inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, told the inquest of a previous incident 10 days before the crash when a driver hit the same bend at 27mph and very nearly overturned, but the incident was insufficiently investigated.

Solicitor Ben Posford who represented five of the seven families said they were "understandably angry and upset" at today’s conclusion.

He added: "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."

Matthew Gregory, FirstGroup Chief Executive said the accident had "deeply shocked and saddened us all".

He added: "Since the incident, we have fully engaged with all subsequent investigations, implementing recommendations that arose from them and will take into account any further learnings that may arise from the inquest. FirstGroup has an unwavering commitment to safety, it is front and centre to our culture and to everything we do.

Andy Byford, Transport for London’s Commissioner, said: "We have supported the Inquests and Coroner throughout the process in every way we could and Mark Davis, our London Trams General Manager, was in attendance throughout.

"We have worked closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) and the Office and Rail and Road (ORR) and have introduced a number of additional safety measures on the tram network in recent years to ensure nothing like this can ever happen again. Safety will always be our number one priority, and we continue to review our operation and to work with the wider tram industry to introduce any further measures that may benefit the people who rely on our services.”