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Sheppey Crossing mega-crash victims call for safety improvements one year on

By Nick Lillitos

One year on today from Britain’s largest ever crash in thick fog at Sheppey Crossing, rumours of an official ‘report’ into it remains just as shrouded.

The massive pile-up happened on Thursday, September 5. It involved 150 vehicles, with 40 people hospitalised - but amazingly no deaths.

Some 200 people were treated at the scene by 63 South East Coast Ambulance staff.

There were 100 cars involved in the crash on the Sheppey Crossing. Picture Simon Burchett

There were 150 vehicles involved in the crash on the Sheppey Crossing. Picture: Simon Burchett

When the fog lifted it revealed a long stretch of mangled wreckage taking on the appearance of a war plane strafing run with dazed drivers outside their vehicles, trying to take in the enormity of the scene.

It was widely expected a report would be published, highlighting lessons learnt with recommended measures to improve safety on the bridge.

“To go for another year without knowing what conclusions were drawn would be a serious dereliction of government care" - Cllr Mike Baldock

But enquiries have resulted in denials and stone-walling that such a report exists, despite calls and petitions from the community to see traffic management improvements on the bridge - the scene only recently of the tragic deaths of a mother and her eight-year-old son.

“To go for another year without knowing what conclusions were drawn would be a serious dereliction of government care,” says Cllr Mike Baldock (UKIP, Swale West), shadow cabinet member for Highways at Kent County Council (KCC).

“I think we should have had a full review published by now and I’ve been pushing for an answers.

“Lots of questions remain unanswered. I believe such a report exists.”

County councillor Mike Baldock

County councillor Mike Baldock

Kent Police were adamant this week they were not involved in any report to KCC, a spokesman saying: “Just so you are clear, a report was not prepared by Kent Police concerning the highway or the crossing - our investigation focused entirely on the collision itself, which concluded the thick fog and a number of motorists, not driving to the conditions, were the principal reasons for the incident.”

But at the Highways Agency, an executive arm of the Department for Transport, officials were coy about if a report had been prepared - believed to be because of investigations currently taking place surrounding the deaths of Deborah and Marshall Roberts.

Aftermath of the Sheppey Crossing crash. Picture Martin Stammers

Aftermath of the Sheppey Crossing crash. Picture: Martin Stammers

Asked if the agency has a report on last year’s big bridge collision, a spokesman would only say he could not answer as the recent bridge fatalities were subject to police investigation, and “it would not be appropriate for us to comment at this time.”

He added: “However, we are committed to meeting local MPs, councillors and other interested parties to discuss the Crossing once it is possible and appropriate to do so.”

“I’m concerned at the way officials are going about it - that bridge can’t remain as it is without traffic management measures. Something should have been done by now" - crash victim Andrew Birchmore

MP Gordon Henderson (Con) said: “I’m concerned that no investigation by the Highways Agency has been taken undertaken and, as a consequence of the most recent tragedy, I’ve been to the Transport Minister who has instructed the agency to meet with me and to discuss my concerns as soon as a report is made available about the recent accident.”

He would like to see speed enforcement cameras on the crossing for observing the 70mph limit, along with refuge bays for vehicle breakdowns, and also warning matrix signs for motorists.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson

Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson

Victims involved in the crash agree.

The bridge’s steep curvature resembles a “fairgound ride,” according to island musician Mick Kenten

His stepson Leon was involved in last year’s massive crash suffering cuts, bruises and broken bones.

“It’s pretty sad there’s been further accidents since then. I can’t believe no improvements have been done,” said Sheerness-born Mr Kenten.

“That crossing has become something of a race track. It needs cameras, lighting and warning signs - from a distance its bendy design resembles a fairground ride. God willing there’ll be no more accidents.”

Andrew Birchmore Picture Lewis Dyson

Andrew Birchmore Picture: Lewis Dyson

Andrew Birchmore, a teacher at Sittingbourne’s Kemsley Primary School, was among the injured in the big pile-up last year, suffering neck and back pains when a lorry ploughed into his vehicle from behind.

“I’m concerned at the way officials are going about it - that bridge can’t remain as it is without traffic management measures. Something should have been done by now.

“I think the whole design is not great because of its steep camber. I still suffer back pains.”

The crash record of the Sheppey Crossing is to be discussed by councillors in the hope of action being taken to improve its safety.

Cllr Pat Sandle (Con), who represents Leydown and Warden, has asked for the debate at the next Swale Joint Transportation Board (JTB) meeting.

It will take place at Swale House in Sittingbourne on Monday, September 8.

Her request follows the accident on July 1 when 42-year-old Deborah Roberts and her eight-year-old son Marshall died and the 150-vehicle pile-up on the bridge last September.

Several petitions  have been set up calling for something to be done to prevent further tragedies.

Suggestions have included speed cameras, emergency phones, lighting, a hard shoulder and matrix signs which would warn approaching motorists about any congestion, break-down or weather conditions.

Thousands of people have added their names to them.

Another petition calls for the Department for Transport to undertake a full safety review.

Cllr Sandle says as an immediate safety measure she would like to see the speed limit reduced from 70mph to 50mph and for that to be effectively enforced. 

Cars crumpled together after the crash

Cars crumpled together after the crash

Detectives investigating the crash concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute 32 drivers.

However, after four months of work by specialist collision investigators, Police decided they should be offered a place on a safety awareness course instead of facing court.

Police believe the thick fog that descended on the bridge at about 7.15am was a fundamental reason for the mass smash and resulted in the crossing being closed in both directions for more than nine hours.

A spokesman said other evidence suggests several motorists were “not driving appropriately to the conditions” at speeds of up to 60mph while admitting they could not see beyond their bonnet.

Police said rather than go through the process of taking drivers to court, the 32 motorists concerned were offered a place on a safety awareness course.

Those who chose not to take up the £165 course would automatically be summonsed to court.

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