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Balfour Beatty appeals Hatfield crash fine

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CONTRACTOR Balfour Beatty is to appear in the High Court next week to appeal the record £10M fine handed out for its part in the 2000 Hatfield rail crash which killed four people.

In sentencing last October Judge Mr Justice McKay described the failings of the firm as 'the worst example of sustained negligence in a high risk industry I have ever seen' (NCE 1 November 2005).

But, it is understood that Balfour Beatty bosses regard the punishment for health and safety breaches as too harsh.

The firm's lawyers will call into question the reasons Justice McKay gave for his judgement and it is likely that this will include the lack of precedent for the level of fine imposed.

Balfour Beatty's financial penalty was five times the previous English record; a £2M fine imposed on Thames Trains for its part in the Paddington train crash in 1999.

Network Rail, also found guilty of health and safety breaches during the Hatfield trial, was fined £3.5M.

It is understood that Balfour Beatty could ask the court to re-examine the rail operator's culpability and the level of fine it received.

Unlike Network Rail, Balfour Beatty pleaded guilty, a move that is usually expected to produce a more lenient sentence.

At the time of sentencing Mr Justice MacKay discounted Balfour's guilty plea because it came halfway through the yearlong trial. But it is understood that the contractor will argue it was entitled to a reduced sentence.

Balfour Beatty is also likely to argue that its evidence in the trial proved the tracks were at risk for considerably less time than was claimed by the prosecution.

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