Survivor tells of horror of Croydon tram crash that ‘should never have happened’

Floral tributes left near the scene where a tram crashed, killing seven people, in Croydon, south London (Steve Parsons/PA)
Floral tributes left near the scene where a tram crashed, killing seven people, in Croydon, south London (Steve Parsons/PA)

The last survivor to be brought out of the wreckage of the Croydon tram crash has given a harrowing account of the disaster which victims’ families say “should never have happened”.

Seven passengers were killed and 21 more suffered serious injuries when the tram carrying 69 people derailed near the Sandilands stop on the morning of November 9 2016.

The people who died were Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, 35, both from Croydon.

Transport operators Transport for London (TfL) and Tram Operations Limited (TOL) have accepted failing in their health and safety duties and will be sentenced at the Old Bailey over three days this week.

The tram driver Alfred Dorris, 49, from Beckenham, south-east London, was cleared after blaming the crash on external factors including poor lighting and signage on the approach through the Sandilands tunnel complex.

Croydon tram crash court case
Mark Smith, 35, (right) from Croydon, who was one of seven people who died (BTP/PA)

On Monday, 10 victim impact statements were read out in Court One of the Old Bailey on the first day of sentencing.

Survivor Stephen Kennedy, 31, was working as an electrician on the film Murder On The Orient Express.

In a statement read by prosecutor Jonathan Ashley-Norman KC, he described the moment his life was changed forever.

Before the crash, Mr Kennedy heard the man sitting next to him talking to his wife on the phone about plans for their wedding anniversary that night.

Mr Kennedy said: “It was like everything was moving in slow motion. The carriage completely tipped over and I was thrown from my seat.

“Everything went dark. After a few moments the silence was broken by the most terrible screams.

“I tried to free my arm but it was completely trapped. The man who I had been sitting next to prior to the crash was now lying on top of me. The man was not moving and he was completely unresponsive.

“He had suffered a fatal head injury. This memory stays with me to this day. I remember other passengers stepping over me to get off the tram.

“I remember how cold and damp it was. I’m not sure how long I lay on the tram floor. The emergency services eventually arrived.”

As he was freed by London Ambulance staff he was told he was the last survivor to be extracted from the wreckage.

Mr Kennedy said he woke up at St George’s Hospital in Tooting to be told that doctors had been unable to save his arm and it had to be amputated.

He told how he “tried to make light of the situation through humour” so his family would not worry while feeling “completely broken and scared” inside.

Mr Kennedy described his difficult recovery and learning to use a prosthetic limb as well as feelings of guilt for having survived.

He added: “I fear my life will forever be defined by what happened on 9 November 2016.”

Mark Smith, a dependable, trustworthy family man, was killed in a “wholly avoidable crash”, his sister Stacey Smith said.

She said her faith in justice had been damaged and called for those responsible for the “catastrophic” disaster to be held to account.

Mr Smith’s mother Jean Smith wept as she spoke of her “nightmare journey”  after her son was killed in the “most brutal and avoidable way possible”.

She said: “I used to cry first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Even though I’m screaming in my head while crying I do not want anybody to see or hear me.”

She said that no amount of money or justice would bring her son back but getting accountability may “bring some sense of peace”.

“We have to live with the consequences of other people’s actions for the rest of our lives. I’m living a life sentence. It should never have happened.”

Croydon tram crash court case
Lorry driver Donald Collett, 62, from Croydon, was described as a loving father and grandfather (BTP/PA)

Tracy Angelo said her father Donald Collett was “very protective and loving” towards his family and friends.

On the effect of seeing aerial pictures of the crash site, she said: “We know our darling, beautiful dad was in amongst that devastation and all he was doing was going to work.

“We all remain completely devastated and individually we will never be the same again.”

Croydon tram crash court case
Philip Logan, 52, from New Addington, was a “big-hearted people pleaser” (BTP/PA)

Philip Logan’s sister Susan Lavelle had waited for news at hospital only to be told there had been an “unfortunate mix-up” and he was not there. Days later, she learned confirmation of his death on the news, she said.

Ms Lavelle said: “Phil worked hard. He would put aside his aches and pains. He was a people pleaser.

“He was loved for the big heart he had. I miss my bricklayer jack-of-all-trades. I will always grieve for my brother and I will always grieve for the person I once was.”

Croydon tram crash court case
Robert Huxley, 63, from New Addington, was killed while travelling to work (BTP/PA)

Robert Huxley was a “huge hard-working, charismatic” family member.

His son Adam said he had “lost all trust” in the tram operators and felt “insecurity, anxiety, vulnerability and heartbreak” whenever he went past the network.

He said: “Killed whilst travelling to work and due to retire soon – Robert and anybody else did not deserve this.”

Tram accident
Crystal Palace fan Philip Seary (Family handout/PA)

Philip Seary met his Californian wife Vivian on a blind date in the United States and they married after his beloved Crystal Palace reached the Cup Final, the court heard.

His widow said: “We need some justice for the seven lives lost and the many people injured. If I had driven my car in a reckless manner there would be consequences.”

The sentencing before Mr Justice Fraser is due to conclude on Thursday.