18/07/2005

Engineering firm pleads guilty to Hatfield safety breach

Engineering firm Balfour Beattie has pleaded guilty to the charge that it breached safety standards before the Hatfield train disaster, in which four people died.

The change of plea comes after the company, and five of its managers, were cleared of corporate manslaughter charges last week.

The Hatfield train disaster happened on 17 October 2000, when a London-to-Leeds express came off the tracks at 115mph, derailed by a cracked length of track. Four people died and more than 100 were injured. Balfour Beatty were the appointed maintenance firm at the time of the accident, and the company now faces health and safety charges, with no cap on the fine that could be imposed, if the firm is found guilty.

Speaking just before the defence case started at the Old Bailey on Monday, Balfour Beatty's counsel, Ronald Thwaites QC, said Balfour Beattie wished to plead guilty to the Health and Safety Act charge, and read out the basis of the guilty plea, which did not accept all the allegations outlined by the prosecution at the start of the case five months ago.

However, prosecutor Richard Lissack QC stated: "We continue to maintain that in the totality of the indictment this company is guilty."

Mr Justice Mackay told the jurors that the case would be proceeding "in the normal way" and that they “should not be influenced either way by this change of plea”.

Three managers from Railtrack, now replaced by Network Rail, which owned the East Coast Mainline at the time of the derailment, also face charges under the health and Safety Act, all have pleaded not guilty.

(CL/SP)

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