Tuesday 22 October 2019

Rail firm fined more than £2m after electrocuted boy loses both legs

Stock photo
Stock photo

Henry Clare

A rail firm has been fined more than £2 million after "systematic failings" led to a 13-year-old losing part of both his legs when he was electrocuted at a railway depot.

The teenager suffered what a judge referred to as "life-changing injuries in every sense of those words" when he stood on top of a train wagon near 25,000 volt overhead lines at the Tyne Yard depot near Birtley, Tyne and Wear, in June 2014.

A court heard how he and three friends used a bridleway leading to a bridge in order to access a disused signal box at the depot, which was known by them as the "haunted house".

A judge said the teenager had to have both his legs amputated, one above the knee and one below, and lost several fingers in the wake of the incident, having suffered 80pc burns all over his body, other than his head.

DB Cargo UK, the rail firm that leased the site from Network Rail, was found guilty in October last year of one count of breaching health and safety standards by failing to protect people from risk, after jurors heard that the lack of appropriate warning signage or barriers led to trespassers accessing the depot via the bridge.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how people at the site had spotted "urban explorers and trespassers" walking on to the site but had failed to report these sightings adequately, beyond informal "ad-hoc conversations".

On Wednesday, the firm was ordered to pay £2.7 million for the offence, and was also ordered to pay court costs and an additional fine after admitting it failed to produce a document last year, taking the total fee to £2,922,373.89.

In sentencing DB Cargo UK, Judge Stephen Earl explained how the injuries sustained by the 13-year-old "are not easy to see on one so young".

He said: "It was accepted by all witnesses that the operation of a railway yard is a dangerous business, due to the number of operations partaken in it but also by other hazards.

"Systematic failings increased the risk of serious harm.

"All of the defence witnesses that gave evidence indicated that more could have been done, if only they had been more aware of the risk to trespassers."

The judge told how the accident happened on the evening of June 14 2014, and that the train the boy had climbed on was hooked up to the overhead wire and had been scheduled to leave the site around two hours after the incident.

In a victim impact statement which was summarised in court, the boy explained how he was forced to miss prolonged periods of his education, adding that mobility issues had negatively affected his social life.

He concluded his statement by saying: "My life has changed so much as a result of the injuries that I have sustained".

Judge Earl explained that the driver who was due to drive the train arrived at the depot just after the teenager was injured, and said that the speedy intervention of him and the emergency services prevented potential loss of life.

Following the sentencing, David Ethell, DB Cargo's head of safety and operations, said improvements had been made to the safety and security of sites across the UK following the incident.

Mr Ethell said: "We would like to say that our thoughts are with the young man who was injured in this unfortunate accident.

"We will continue to work with the Office of Rail and Road and other industry stakeholders to raise greater public awareness of the potential dangers of trespass at operational sites and on the wider rail network."

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