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November 19, 2012

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Fatal trespass incident costs rail firm £240,000

The failings of a rail-freight company in adequately preventing trespass on a disused depot in Liverpool were a significant cause of the death of a teenage boy, a court has found.

A judge at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday (16 November) ordered English, Welsh and Scottish Railways International (EWSI) to pay a fine of £180,000 and costs of £59,554 following breaches of health and safety law, which led to the death of 13-year-old Liam Gill.

On 9 August 2009, Liam and two friends gained access to the Allerton rail depot through a gap in the boundary fence. The depot contained a number of abandoned train wagons, which were stored beneath a live 25,000-volt overhead power line. Liam climbed on to the roof of a train wagon and was electrocuted, while his two friends, both aged 14, suffered severe burns from the current as they were clambering off the wagon.

The investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) into the incident found that EWSI had failed to prevent trespass on the depot adequately, by not ensuring the boundary fence was maintained. The regulator charged the company with a breach of s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and a charge under reg.3(3) of the MHSWR 1999 – both of which EWSI admitted during separate hearings at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court in autumn last year. 

Sentencing was delayed owing to a dispute over whether the company’s failings caused Liam’s death. At the Crown Court hearing, the judge found that the company failed to conduct a risk assessment, secure the wagons to prevent trespassing, and undertake appropriate security patrols.

According to the ORR, the judge concluded that these factors were a significant cause of Liam’s death. Prior to the incident, the company had also received reports from local neighbourhood watch that the site had been subject to trespassing.

ORR Principal Inspector Ian Raxton said: “Liam’s death was caused by EWSI’s failure to manage safety risks at the site. The judge found that EWSI was aware that trespassing was taking place at the depot, yet did not take sufficient steps to prevent unauthorised access to the site. It is also totally unacceptable to leave unused high-voltage overhead cables switched on in a largely abandoned depot, which is known to be accessed by trespassers.” 

The inspector conceded that the boys should not have been trespassing, as the activity poses serious safety risks and accounted for 53 reported fatalities in 2011/12.

But he underlined that “where there are known risks, there is no excuse for companies to not take appropriate action against trespass”.

Following the incident, the ORR instructed EWSI to repair the boundary fence. The company also took action to switch off the electric supply to the unused overhead lines and relocate the wagons.

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11 years ago

Given the area this accident took place in, I’d have thought their motive for being in there was to find something more readily saleable than ‘adventure’.

11 years ago

did the inspector take into account that were talking about a 13 year old boy here course he did. or he would of taken into account that at 13 boys are adventurouse and like to climb on things and swing on things. allways take into account that if you dont protect people from a hazzard no one will ever get hurt or killed. youngsters are most at risk this.