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No individual to blame for Hatfield, says accused engineer

NEWS

NO INDIVIDUAL is to blame for the Hatfi ld rail crash of 2000, one of the civil engineers accused of heath and safety violations told the Old Bailey this week.

All railwaymen felt a sense of responsibility for the disaster, civil engineer Nicholas Jeffries told the court. He was employed by maintenance contractor Balfour Beatty at the time of the crash.

Jeffries, Railtrack asset manager Alistair Cook, area asset manager Sean Fugill and track engineer Keith Lea, plus former Balfour Beatty regional director Anthony Walker, are all charged with breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act alongside Balfour Beatty and Network Rail.

Manslaughter charges against all fi e engineers and Balfour Beatty were thrown out last Thursday.

All defendants plead not guilty except Balfour Beatty, which changed its plea to guilty on Monday.

Jeffries told the court that the strain imposed on him by the allegations had contributed to health problems.

Before Jeffries took the stand, his barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC told the court of Jeffries' relief when the judge threw out the manslaughter charges.

'People like Jeffries had this hanging over their professions and their reputations and their lives and their wives and children until they heard the magic words last week.' The prosecution alleges a plan to recover a backlog of defects on the East Coast Main Line, approved by Jeffries, was unsafe and contributed to October 2000's derailment.

But Jeffries, who has 39 years' experience on the railways, said he was convinced the approach taken to the backlog was sound and that he would make the same decision again.

This approach was to apply for a temporary dispensation from Railtrack maintenance standards while a maintenance team was sent to the East Coast Main Line to prioritise and tackle the problem.

'It certainly wasn't cutting corners, but there was a need to alleviate the situation by recovering from it. It wasn't cutting corners to jeopardise people, ' said Jeffries.

The alternative to the recovery plan would have been the partial or complete closure of King's Cross. The worst case scenario could have been up to a month, ' he added.

He also said he had no reason to suspect that more junior staff were not doing their jobs.

Goldberg told the Old Bailey: 'The whole of the railway industry works on the principle of delegation. You are entitled to believe that the tier below you is working properly unless they call up and tell you. The problems at Hatfi ld were not leaked upwards.' No other remaining defendant offered any evidence and closing speeches will be made next week.

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