Croydon tram crash victims’ families submit formal request to Attorney General for fresh inquest

4 Aug 2021 | Ben Posford

Osbornes Law, who represent five Croydon tram crash victims’ families, today wrote to the Attorney General asking him to apply to the High Court for a new inquest, citing multiple irregularities with the conduct of the original inquest which ended last month.

An inquest jury last month concluded that the seven people who died in the derailment at the Sandilands Junction, Croydon on 9 November 2016 did so as a result of an accident.

But lawyers from London law firm Osbornes Law have written to Attorney General Michael Ellis QC MP claiming that a fresh inquest should be held as Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for South London, Sarah Ormond-Walshe (‘HMSC’) interpreted the law incorrectly. This resulted in the inquest not hearing crucial evidence.

Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Logan, 52, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, and Robert Huxley, 63, all from New Addington, and Mark Smith, 35, and Donald Collett, 62, from Croydon died in the crash at Sandilands Junction, while 62 of the 70 on board were injured, 19 seriously.

Ben Posford, Partner and Head of Catastrophic Injury at Osbornes Law is lead solicitor for five of the seven families (the families of Mr Logan, Mr Seary, Ms Rynkiewicz, Mr Smith, and Mr Collett).

In the letter to the Attorney General he wrote: “We are writing to ask that you consider using your powers under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 (‘the 1988 Act’) to apply to the High Court for an order seeking a fresh inquest. We believe that it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another investigation be held. As per section 13, the application would be justified on the grounds of rejection of evidence and/or irregularity of proceedings and/or insufficiency of inquiry.”

The coroner at the nine-week inquest refused to let the court hear evidence from anybody potentially responsible for the crash, instead relying on evidence from the Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB). She used precedent in a previous inquest of a helicopter crash – Norfolk – to allow no evidence to be heard from Transport for London (Tfl) or First Group’s Trams Operations Limited (TOL).

Ben added: “At the inquest HMSC refused to call any eye-witnesses who were in the crashed tram, nor any tram drivers or trainers, nor any managers from the tram company, nor any infrastructure managers. She refused to call the defaulting tram driver himself. She refused to call experts who had reported on inadequate risk assessment, inadequate signage and inadequate regulation of the industry.

“These decisions have caused distress and injustice to the families of the deceased and also caused a public outcry. If the decision is right in law then in all future air/marine/train crash inquests no family will ever hear from and question those who were responsible for the deaths of their loved ones and no experts other than RAIB staff will be heard. If this decision is right the Accident Investigation Boards are now all-powerful, all-seeing experts; dispensers of justice; determiners of fact and curtains behind which all defaulters will be kept from the public eye. Inquests and juries are made irrelevant.

“HMSC’s interpretation of Norfolk was far too broad and has the effect that in every mass fatality public transport accident in future, the inquest will never again hear from any of those who are directly responsible. Instead, the inquests will simply be a rubber-stamping exercise of the AIB report relating to that incident, which renders the inquest an expensive farce.”

Some of the families have offered to meet with the Attorney General.

Ben said: “We also invite you to meet some of the families involved to better understand the effect this decision has had on them. The families feel deeply let down by the inquest process and can see no point in having such an inquiry and then calling none of those responsible to give evidence to the jury.

“The families are not rich. They cannot afford a judicial review. If they can gain legal aid they will have to start a judicial review within three months of 28 June 2021. You could save them the heartache, stress and burden by exercising your powers.”

RAIB’s 2018 report into the crash can be viewed here. RAIB concluded that the driver either fell asleep or became disorientated in the Sandilands tunnel. They also concluded that ToL’s risk assessments and safety precautions against their drivers’ human failings were inadequate. TfL appointed SNC-LAVALIN to carry out an independent report into the crash. The report and recommendations can be viewed here.

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