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Trial 'destroyed me as a person' says Jeffries

CIVIL ENGINEER Nick Jeffries this week accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of 'destroying him as a person' when it prosecuted him over the Hatfield rail crash.

Jeffries expressed frustration at the fact that the CPS must prosecute individuals if it also wants to take action against their employers.

'I am still vexed by the fact that they brought the prosecution against me just to get Balfour Beatty, ' said Jeffries.

Jeffries was a civil engineer for Balfour Beatty at the time of the crash in October 2000.

He, Railtrack engineers Alistair Cook, Sean Fugill and Keith Lea, and former Balfour Beatty regional director Anthony Walker were charged with corporate manslaughter and health and safety violations for their roles in the accident.

But after an eight month trial all charges against the individuals were thrown out, along with corporate manslaughter charges against Network Rail and Balfour Beatty (NCE 8 September).

Last week both companies were hit with record fines after being found guilty of health and safety violations.

Jeffries said the prosecution case effectively collapsed after cross-examination of the evidence of Network Rail head of track engineering David Ventry.

The prosecution had built its case around a letter sent by Ventry to Balfour Beatty in December 1999 with information on how to deal with gauge corner cracking.

But under nine days of cross examination Ventry admitted that the letter was confusing and based on the experience of a different line.

'The Ventry letter should have been tested before the trial, ' said Jeffries.

'Not one of the witnesses gave any evidence that we were guilty.

'I don't think the CPS realises what it does to us engineers.

How does it affect you, when you are accused of all the things you have fought your life not to do?

'There was even talk of deals - of us pleading guilty to the 'lesser' health and safety charge (in exchange for dropping the manslaughter charge)'. He said he felt like a doctor being asked to agree that he had killed his patients. 'Your pride is gone.

You are destroyed as a person, not just a professional. It is not something the CPS should do lightly, ' he said.

Director of public prosecutions Ken MacDonald has stood by the decision to prosecute for manslaughter and health and safety violations. 'We would be failing in our duty to the public if we ignored evidence that in our view showed a case should properly go before a judge and jury, ' he said after the jury announced its verdict.

'We felt there was sufficient evidence in this case and the seriousness of what was alleged meant that the public interest demanded a prosecution, ' he added.

(See feature page 18)

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