Neil Garratt, London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, reacts to today's result of the Sandilands tram inquest.
Today the inquest into the Sandilands tram crash concluded with the jury returning a disappointing verdict of accidental death. I share the anger that seven people’s deaths are put down as simply an accident, when we have seen both the safety problems that the investigation brought to light, and the attempts to hide from scrutiny.
I am deeply concerned that no one from either Transport for London (TfL) or Tram Operations Ltd (TOL) was called to give evidence at the inquest, because the Coroner declined to invite them.
Had they been called, they might have explained why there were no speed limit signs at the end of the long straight track leading to the tight bend where the crash occurred. This corner had a history of speeding incidents: drivers had used the emergency brake there at least nine previous times. It later emerged that less than two weeks before the fatal crash, another tram had come within 2mph of tipping over on this corner.
When the driver suffering a “microsleep” is believed to have caused the crash, TfL or TOL might have explained why three-quarters of tram drivers thought the fatigue management system for drivers was inadequate. Two years before the crash, there was both a confidential whistleblower report about shift patterns causing tiredness, and an independent audit of TOL which found seven weaknesses. One weakness was fatigue management. This information wasn’t included in the original crash investigation because TfL didn’t provide it, it only came to light years later.
The Coroner ought to have asked TfL and TOL about these events, and also why drivers’ fear of repercussions made them wary of reporting such problems to management. Collectively, both these safety problems and the culture of hiding them led the former TfL Board Member to describe TfL as “institutionally unsafe”. It’s hard to disagree.
The inquest jury considered the facts presented to them for more than nine days, and I thank them for their commitment. But without hearing a single word of evidence from either TfL or TOL, they were given an impossible task.
Many of us had high hopes that after years of official obstruction, the inquest would finally get to the bottom of what happened and give families and loved ones of the crash victims some closure. I am afraid that it leaves more questions than answers, in particular why the inquest did not call TfL or TOL to answer for their actions. Those failings are a concern not just for the Sandilands victims and families, but across London’s public transport system.
The only way that the families of those departed, and the community torn apart from this tragedy, can get closure is if the process is beyond reproach. Sadly that did not happen here, and so the pursuit of justice continues. I will do all I can to support the families affected to reach the peace that they need.