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Hatfield five 'ignored rail repair schedule'

Management knew track was 'a disaster waiting to happen', Old Bailey jury hears

FIVE rail bosses accused of manslaughter knew the stretch of track at the site of the Hatfield rail crash was in a 'terrible' state and was a 'disaster waiting to happen'the Old Bailey heard this week.

The Hatfield five all deny manslaughter.They are Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance director Anthony Walker and civil engineer Nicholas Jeffries, Railtrack London North East asset managers Alistair Cook and Sean Fugill and Railtrack LNE track engineer Keith Lea.They also deny breaching safety laws.

Balfour Beatty faces a corporate manslaughter charge and Network Rail faces health and safety charges, which are denied.

Richard Lissack, QC for the prosecution, told a jury that the rail that broke at the site was first identified as suffering from fatigue in January 1999.At the time of the crash in October 2000 another rail was beside the track waiting to be fitted.

The prosecution also alleged that Balfour Beatty's maintenance of that part of the East Coast Main Line from King's Cross was totally inadequate and the company knew it.

Mr Lissack said: 'This stretch of rail wasn't just a bad bit that snapped. It was a piece of line that disintegrated beneath this train.'

Every defendant knew before the accident of a condition known as gauge corner cracking, a form of contact fatigue in which a rail gets worn out by rolling stock, the jury heard.

The primary focus of the prosecution's manslaughter case is the defendants' involvement in the last four-and-a-half months before October 17, the date of the crash.

The prosecution alleges that at a meeting in June 2000 between Mr Walker and Mr Lea it was agreed that the clock which counted the time for doing the out-of-date repairs would be turned to zero.

All those charged with manslaughter are alleged to have been complicit in that arrangement.

The prosecution said the jury was dealing with a huge industry: 'but the men before you worked closely together.What is really important in this case are the roles and responsibilities of each defendant.'

The trial continues.