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Jury convicts Network Rail of safety failures after signaller suffers broken neck

Network Rail has been convicted of safety failures when an employee was seriously injured at a manual level crossing.

Signaller Doug Caddell had warned about the dangers of cars using the crossing only hours before he was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken neck.

Network Rail was found guilty on Friday of contravening the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 between February 23, 2014, and April 2,5 2015.

Doug Caddell in hospital following the level crossing accident
Doug Caddell in hospital following the level crossing accident

It failed to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the health and safety risks to employees.

Despite deliberating for 12 hours, the jury could not reach a verdict on a second charge of failing to discharge the duty imposed by the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 by failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees.

The prosecution then indicated a retrial would not be sought on that charge.

The sentence – expected to be a substantial fine – was adjourned to a date to be fixed.

Maidstone Crown Court heard Mr Caddell had emailed his boss on April 24, 2015, to report that a car drove through the crossing at East Farleigh, near Maidstone, as he was closing the gates.

He made some suggestions to line manager Geoffrey Orman as to how the crossing could be made safer.

But then at about 1.25pm that day a car struck the gates as Mr Caddell, 65, was closing them.

He was knocked to the ground and suffered two broken vertebrae in his neck. He was treated in a London hospital until May 9.

“He made good progress but continued to suffer with a number of health problems,” prosecutor William Davis told Maidstone Crown Court.

“It is the prosecution case that Network Rail failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at East Farleigh and failed to implement suitable measures to protect its employees from the risk of harm to their health and safety and welfare,” said Mr Davis.

The crossing on the Medway Valley line between Maidstone East and Wateringbury was manned by four signallers on morning and evening shifts.

The gates were closed by staff when trains approached to stop traffic crossing the line. No audible warning devices were fitted at the time.

The line speed was 70mph with a 40mph limit over the crossing. The traffic speed leading to and over the crossing was 30mph.

The accident was captured on CCTV cameras from the nearby Victory pub.

Maidstone Crown Court,(1130474)
Maidstone Crown Court,(1130474)

Mr Caddell joined Network Rail in 2003 and having worked at London Bridge and Ashford moved to the East Farleigh signal box in 2012.

He and other signallers at the crossing reported that incidents with traffic when closing the gates were a common occurrence.

"Shortly before the accident, Mr Caddell followed the normal sequence, leaving the signal box to close the gates to traffic.

“He remembered nothing about what followed until the ambulance crew arrived and he was taken to hospital,” said Mr Davis.

The car driver was prosecuted but he died shortly before his court hearing. The fact he may have been guilty of careless driving did not provide Network Rail with a defence, said the prosecutor.

Mr Caddell said in evidence the dangers presented by motorists were regarded as being part of the job.

Doug Caddell was hit by a car at East Farleigh level crossing and is now campaigning for people to be more careful. Picture: Matt Bristow
Doug Caddell was hit by a car at East Farleigh level crossing and is now campaigning for people to be more careful. Picture: Matt Bristow

Mr Davis said an error was made in a risk assessment in February 2014 in the usage figures by vehicles.

After the accident temporary traffic lights were installed, operating between 7am and 8pm. They were later replaced by permanent warning lights known as wig-wags.

Yellow box hatching was put on the crossing and full orange protective equipment was ordered for signallers.

Judge Philip Statman said there was “enormous public interest” in the case.

He told the jury of eight men and three women, one having been discharged: “You have worked long and hard over the last three weeks. These are not easy cases for jurors.

“There are issues of a highly technical and sometimes complex nature.”

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