Tram operators fined £14m over Croydon disaster that claimed seven lives

The scene of the crash in November 2016 (PA)
The scene of the crash in November 2016 (PA)

Tansport operators were fined a total of £14 million after a senior judge said the Croydon tram disaster was an “accident waiting to happen”.

Seven people were killed and many more injured when a tram carrying 69 people derailed near the Sandilands stop early on the morning of November 9 2016.

The driver Alfred Dorris had been going three times the 20kph speed limit when the tram toppled over on a sharp corner throwing passengers into the air and tossing them about the carriages.

Mr Dorris, 49, from Beckenham, south-east London, was cleared of failing in his duty after claiming he had become disorientated and thought he was going in the other direction.

He blamed the crash on external factors including the poor lighting and signage on the approach through the Sandilands tunnel complex.

The Old Bailey heard how the risk of drivers becoming confused in the tunnels had been raised by an engineer years before – but not acted upon.

And just days before the crash, a report was made of a “near miss” involving another driver at the same spot which was also ignored.

Transport for London (TfL) and Tram Operations Limited (TOL) had pleaded guilty to failing in their health and safety duties.

In a filmed sentencing at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Mr Justice Fraser fined TfL £10 million and TOL £4 million.

He had already ordered they each pay £234,404 in costs to the prosecuting authority, the Office of Rail and Road, and a victim surcharge of £170.

Jean Smith, the mother of Mark Smith, who was one of seven people who died in the Croydon tram disaster
Jean Smith, the mother of Mark Smith, who was one of seven people who died in the Croydon tram disaster (James Manning/PA)

Mr Justice Fraser said: “This was, in my judgment, undoubtedly an accident waiting to happen, quite literally.

“The fact that so many years passed without such a disaster does not mean that the risk of harm was not a high likelihood; it just means that the combination of circumstances had not occurred prior to November 2016.”

The judge said the “core failure” by both TfL and TOL was not even having a risk assessment performed.

He added: “The complacency with which the defective lighting, inadequate signage and lack of visual cues within the tunnel seem simply to have been accepted as facts of life is disturbing.”

Speaking outside court, Jean Smith, whose son Mark died in the crash, said the sentencing was “pointless” and the fines imposed were “meaningless in light of the loss of life”.

Calling for a change in the law on dangerous driving on the tram networks, she said: “The legal system let down all the passengers on the tram that morning.”

She also criticised Mr Dorris, saying: “The biggest player in this is Alfred Dorris who should have been in that courtroom today.

“Alfred Dorris will always be remembered as the tram driver who killed seven people and seriously hurt, both mentally and physically, every passenger on tram 2551. My family and I will never forgive him for robbing us of our Mark.”

Mark Smith
Mark Smith, 35, from Croydon, who was one of seven people who died (British Transport Police/PA)

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.

Earlier this week, Mr Smith’s family, who had sat in court throughout the hearings, described the crash as “wholly avoidable”.

Mr Collett’s daughter, Tracy Angelo, said: “We all remain completely devastated and individually we will never be the same again.”

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

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

Mr Seary’s widow, Vivian, 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.”

Philip Seary
Crystal Palace fan Philip Seary, 57, died in the derailment (Family handout/PA)

Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser said: “When faced with the evidence of their failure over a number of years, both TfL and TOL accepted that they had not done everything that was reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of their passengers, with terrible consequences on the early morning of 9 November 2016.

“We must never forget the tragedy of that day, and must strive to learn all of its lessons so there can be no repetition. Our thoughts remain with those whose lives were so affected.

“The judge’s remarks and the sentences imposed underline to the corporate defendants and the whole industry that their first responsibility is to ensure the safety of their passengers and staff.

“We welcome the improvements made to the network since the incident. We will continue to scrutinise this vital industry and hold operators to account if they fall short.”

London’s Transport Commissioner, Andy Lord, said: “I apologise on behalf of everyone at Transport for London, both past and present, for this tragedy and for the pain, distress and suffering that all those affected have endured and continue to endure.

“Every passenger on the tram that morning entrusted their safety to us but we failed them and for that I am truly sorry. We remain committed to providing support to anyone who needs it.

“Since 2016, we have also delivered an extensive programme of major industry-leading safety improvements to the tram network.

“We continually review our network and work with the wider tram industry to ensure we are running the safest possible service for our customers and to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again.”

Graham Sutherland, chief executive of FirstGroup, TOL’s parent company, said: “The tragic incident on the Tramlink network in November 2016 deeply shocked and saddened us and I would like to offer my sincere and heartfelt apologies to all those in Croydon and beyond, upon whom the tragedy had such deep and lasting effects.

“Our commitment to safety is integral to everything we do, and on behalf of everyone at FirstGroup I would like to reiterate how profoundly sorry we are that such an incident could take place aboard a service operated by one of our companies, Tram Operations Limited.”