The inquest into deaths of the seven people who were killed in the Croydon tram crash in November 2016 has concluded, with a jury ruling that the crash was an accident.
Sixty-nine passengers were on-board the tram, bound for Wimbledon via Croydon, when it over-turned and crashed near Sandilands tram stop in south London on 9 November 2016. Seven people were killed and more than 50 people injured.
The families of the victims had described a feeling of ‘being forgotten’ in the years since the crash.
The tram was travelling at nearly triple the speed limit when it derailed, and a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) investigation said it was likely that the driver had ‘temporarily lost awareness’.
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.
“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 on to its right side, as a result of which the deceased [were] ejected from the tram and killed.”
In November 2019, SHP reported that the driver, Alfred Dorris would be unlikely to face prosecution for manslaughter, due to a lack of evidence, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Corporate manslaughter charges will also not be brought against Transport for London (TfL) or the operator Tram Operations Ltd. Prosecutors said the available evidence “does not support a prosecution.”
When it came off the tracks, before dawn and in heavy rain, the tram was travelling ‘significantly faster than allowed’, at almost four times the line’s speed limit. The official report into the crash concluded Mr Dorris, then aged 42, ‘probably dozed off’ moments before the tram left the tracks.
Some of the families of the victims were said to be devastated by the outcome of the report, and the time it took to complete.
Danielle Whetter, the granddaughter Philip Logan, one of the seven people killed, told the Croydon Guardian: “You can’t even put into words how we’re feeling, it’s horrible. We were expecting it because it has taken so long, but it’s a kick in the face.”
She criticised the British Transport Police for only released the information on the report to the families, an hour before publicly making it available to the media.
Croydon tram crash: Assessing the evidence
In order to prove manslaughter by gross negligence the prosecution need to establish that:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the person or persons who died;
- By a negligent act or omission the defendant was in breach of the duty which he owed to the person or persons who died;
- The negligent act or omission was a cause of death;
- The negligence, which was a cause of death, amounts to gross negligence and is therefore a crime.
The CPS was satisfied that the first three elements of the offence could be established. Whilst driving a tram in public service with passengers on board, the driver either fell asleep or lost concentration to such a degree that he completely relinquished control of the driving task, with the result that the tram derailed. There was no evidence that the driver’s failure to drive the tram in a competent manner was the result of the sudden onset of a medical condition which rendered him incapable of carrying out his driving function or caused him to lose consciousness.
The fourth and final element of the offence is the need to prove that the conduct in question amounts to gross negligence, which the CPS concluded could not be proved in this case. In order for the conduct to be “gross”, the law requires it to be so reprehensible or bad in all the circumstances as to amount to a criminal act or omission, and not merely such as to give rise to civil liability for negligence. A conviction cannot be returned if the negligence is, or may have been, less than gross. Even serious mistakes are not to be equated with gross negligence. There must be something over and above negligence, even when there is a risk of death, in order for the conduct to be gross.4
Risk of overturning on curves ‘not properly understood’
At the time, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found the risk of trams overturning on curves was ‘not properly understood‘ on the tramway and there were insufficient safety measures, according to its report into the Croydon tram crash.
Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents, said: “The RAIB’s report into the accident at Sandilands will stand as the record of the events that led to the tram overturning and the terrible human consequences. Our careful analysis of the evidence, and identification of the causal and underlying factors, has enabled us to make a number of far-reaching recommendations. These will have a lasting impact on the way that the tramway industry manages its risk.
“Our careful analysis of the evidence, and identification of the causal and underlying factors, has enabled us to make a number of far-reaching recommendations. These will have a lasting impact on the way that the tramway industry manages its risk.”
French said there was recommended action in five main areas:
- Modern technology to intervene when trams approach hazardous features too fast, or when drivers lose awareness of the driving task.
- Tramways need to promote better awareness and management of the risk associated with tramway operations.
- Work needs to be done to reduce the extent of injuries caused to passengers in serious tram accidents, and to make it easier for them to escape.
- There need to be improvements to safety management systems, particularly encouraging a culture in which everyone feels able to report their own mistakes.
- Finally, greater collaboration is needed across the tramway industry on matters relating to safety.
The RAIB made 15 recommendations intended to improve safety, including:
- Technology, such as automatic braking and systems to monitor driver alertness;
- Better understanding the risks associated with tramway operations, particularly when the tramway is not on a road, and the production of guidance on how these risks should be managed;
- Improving the strength of doors and windows;
- Improvements to safety management systems, particularly encouraging a culture in which everyone feels able to report their own mistakes;
- Improvements to the tram operator’s safety management arrangements so as to encourage staff to report their own mistakes and other safety issues;
- Reviewing how tramways are regulated;
- A dedicated safety body for UK tramways.
By far the most likely explanation of what happened in this case is that the driver fell asleep, or into a microsleep (a period of unintended, light sleep usually lasting for a few seconds) shortly before derailment. If this is what happened, it is clear that this was an unintended and involuntary act. There was no compelling evidence that the driver had done anything which he ought to have known could adversely affect his concentration or make him susceptible to falling asleep whilst driving the tram, nor was there evidence that he had culpably contributed to his negligent failure to drive the tram in a safe manner.
For these reasons the CPS has concluded that the offence of gross negligence manslaughter was not supported by the evidence.
The seven people killed in the crash were 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, both from Croydon. Family members of the victims sat in the public gallery to hear the verdict.
Jenny Hopkins, head of the CPS special crime and counter terrorism division, said investigators “fully recognise the impact this decision will have on families who have lost their loved ones.”
The CPS said there was no evidence for bringing corporate manslaughter charges as it found no defects in either the tram or the track which could have caused the derailment. According to the CPS, it is clear from the evidence that the sole cause of this tragic incident was the driver losing awareness and control of his driving task.