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The Southall Hearings    
The Southall Disaster 19 September 1997         

the directors of Great Western Trains were found not guilty on 7 counts of manslaughter

The scales of justice remain firmly tipped in favour of boards of directors

Almost two years after a Great Western Trains IC125 collided with a freight train, killing 7 people, the company and one of its drivers were finally brought to trial.

The accident occurred on 19 September 1997 when a Swansea - London train, operated by Great western Trains was allowed to proceed with neither it AWS nor its ATP systems operational. This left the driver, Larry Harrison alone in his cab without any back-up facility to warn him of adverse signal aspects. In the event, he missed two warning signals and a stop signal. This is just the situation that the AWS and ATP can guard against. He would have received a warning that the signals were against him. If he had not acknowledged this, then his train would have been brought to a halt automatically.

The trial opened at the Old Bailey on 1 July 1999. On the first day, the judge, Mr Justice Scott-Baker said that it would be unsafe to proceed with the prosection of the company unless an individual director could be identified as being the "directing mind" and who could be held to be negligent. In the light of this, the case was adjourned while the prosecution decided how to proceed.

When the hearing commenced the following day, the charges of manslaughter were dropped against both the company and the driver. No evidence against the driver was offered in a separate charge under Health and Safety legislation.


The Health & Safety Executive's inquiry into the accident commnenced on 24 Feb 1998. However, it was stalled on the very day it began. Prof. John Uff, chairing the Inquiry explained that it would not go into any "substantive issues" because of the possibility of criminal proceedings.

British Transport Police had started a criminal investigation. As a result, on 17 April 1998 Mr Harrison was charged with 7 counts of manslaughter and a court date of 27 May was announced. There followed a series of adjournments while the police investigation proceeded. In September, one year after the accident and in the face of apparent dithering by the authorities, relatives of the dead and those injured in the crash expressed their frustration. They demanded that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) make a decision about whether to prosecute any of the railway companies.

In response, the CPS announced that they had received the file on the case from the police in July and that they were still considering it. It wasn't until December that it was anounced that Great Western Trains was to be charged.

A date for the hearing was then set for July 1999. Prof Uff was able to announce that the HSE inquiry could restart on 20 September 1999   -   two years and one day after the accident.

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This file last updated: Friday, 30-Jul-1999 22:02:37 EDT
Copyright © David Fry 1999