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Balfour admits to Hatfield failure but questions detail

Judge directs jury to discount manslaughter charges but contractor admits mistakes as health and safety case continues

BALFOUR Beatty has admitted safety breaches in relation to the Hatfield rail crash after a judge threw out manslaughter charges against the firm and five rail bosses at the Old Bailey last week.

The court was told of the maintenance provider's change of heart by Balfour Beatty counsel Ronald Thwaites QC, but the company said it did not accept all the allegations outlined by the prosecution at the start of the case five months ago.

The company pleaded guilty on the basis that there was not one single cause of the derailment but said it did not accept it had failed to comply with Railtrack's standards. It also maintained that, if re-railing had taken place as planned, there would have been no derailment.

The company said in a statement: 'Re-railing had been scheduled as a priority. Parties other than the company were wholly responsible for the carrying out of scheduled re-railing and for the failure to rerail by the date of the derailment.'

Five rail bosses were also cleared of unlawfully killing the four people who died in the crash on October 17 2000. They still face charges under the Health and Safety Act and their trial will continue.

They are Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance's regional director Anthony Walker,48, and civil engineer Nicholas Jeffries,50, Railtrack London North East zone managers Alistair Cook, 52, and Sean Fugill, 52, and Railtrack London North Eastern track engineer Keith Lea, 55.They all deny the charges.

Mr Justice Mackay said he dismissed the manslaughter charges after listening to submissions, reviewing evidence and considering issues which had arisen.

He did not give his reasons.

Mr Justice Mackay told 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 the defendants.

'I am not permitted to give reasons for the decision. I must ask you to accept my ruling, which does not affect one way or the other the important decisions you will have to make when considering verdicts on the health and safety counts.'