ENGINEERS CHARGED with health and safety violations for their part in the 2000 Hatfield crash walked free on Tuesday after a five year ordeal.
Former Balfour Beatty civil engineer Nicholas Jeffries broke down in tears when the jury foreman announced not guilty verdicts for him and four others.
But after the seven month trial the jury unanimously found Network Rail guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of people in its care.
Maintenance contractor Balfour Beatty had already pleaded guilty to health and safety charges in July (NCE 21 July).
Former Balfour Beatty civil engineer Nicholas Jeffries, former Balfour Beatty regional director Anthony Walker and Railtrack's asset manager Alistair Cook, area asset manager Sean Fugill and track engineer Keith Lea had all been charged with breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act. Manslaughter charges against the five were previously thrown out.
Jeffries told NCE of his relief after the verdict was read out: 'I didn't think it would be like this, but it's been five years, ' he said.
Jeffries had earlier told the court that the strain imposed on him had contributed to health problems (NCE 21 July).
Speaking for Jeffries outside the court, barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC reiterated his belief that no individuals should have been charged following the crash.
'This crash was the result of a botched privatisation. It was not a case for prosecuting individuals, ' he said.
In a statement, Jeffries added: 'As a dedicated railwayman, I was deeply saddened by the accident and sympathise with those bereaved. I have always asserted my innocence.
'Of course I am pleased with the verdict, which clears me of all personal blame. But I have had this over my head for five years and seriously question the decision to prosecute me.'
The others also expressed their sadness for the four killed in the crash but their relief at being exonerated.
'I have always maintained my innocence and am thankful that I have been cleared of any wrongdoing, ' said Walker. 'My family has had to live with the stress of very serious criminal charges for over four years.' 'I have always tried to do the best I could to make the railways a safe place and I am pleased that this was refl cted in the jury's decision today, ' said Cook.
'I am relieved to reach the end of five distressing years for myself and my family, ' said Fugill.
'It has been a traumatic fi ve years for everybody involved, ' said Lea. 'This verdict allows my family to get back to some degree of normality.' Network Rail said it accepted the court's verdict. It and Balfour Beatty will be sentenced on 3 October.