Archive article from The Socialist Issue 402
Judge lets rail bosses walk free
A JUDGE has thrown out manslaughter charges against five rail executives from Railtrack and Balfour Beatty, accused of killing the four people who died in the October 2000 Hatfield train crash. Corporate manslaughter charges against Balfour Beatty, the engineering firm that specialises in privatisation, were also dismissed.
Judge Mackay ordered the jury to find the executives not guilty, telling jurors: "It is not open to you to convict any of the six defendants on charges of manslaughter. The trial will proceed on the health and safety charges faced by all the defendants." Amazingly he said he could give no reason for his decision, merely telling jurors to accept his ruling.
The prosecution claimed that faulty rails identified 21 months before the crash were left unrepaired, that more than 200 defects had been found on the 43 miles of line from Kings Cross, and that many other dangerous decisions had been made, mainly to cut costs and boost profits.
Rail unions knew that only a handful of corporate manslaughter cases have ever succeeded in the capitalist legal system, and that these mainly involved small firms, not big companies like these. Nonetheless this class-biased decision appalled the unions, one leader said that managers can now "cock a snook at health and safety legislation".
The rail system has got more unsafe since privatisation, with the owners bent on increasing profits and dividends rather than safety. After the Hatfield crash, 76% of people said they agreed with renationalising the rail system.
The rail unions should fight for the entire rail system to be taken out of the hands of profit-grasping private firms. It should be brought back into public hands, this time under the democratic control and management of workers and transport users.
That way we could ensure that safety not profit became the rail system's top priority.
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