Network Rail admits safety breaches over girls' deaths

Network Rail has admitted three health and safety breaches over the deaths of two girls at an Essex level crossing in 2005, a court has heard.

Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were hit by a train as they walked over train tracks at Elsenham station footpath crossing.

Lawyers at Basildon Magistrates' Court said Network Rail would plead guilty.

Chris Bazlinton, Olivia's father, said the plea showed the family had been misled.

Mr Bazlinton, 63, from Farnham, Essex, said: "I am glad that Network Rail has pleaded guilty to what after all are criminal charges. It proves that we have been lied to over the years.

'Cover up' claims

"I believe there are still many specific questions about what happened which are still unanswered, and generally about why the revelations only emerged over the past 12 months, six years after the accident."

Network Rail said it would plead guilty to failing to carry out a sufficient risk assessment, failing to properly control protective measures at the level crossing and failing to prevent the girls from being exposed to the risks which led to their deaths.

Sentencing will take place at Chelmsford Crown Court on 15 March.

Sir David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail, said: "Last year I apologised in person to the families of Olivia and Charlotte. Today, Network Rail repeats that apology.

"In this tragic case, Network Rail accepts that it was responsible for failings, and therefore we have pleaded guilty."

In February last year, it emerged a Network Rail risk report from 2002 had recommended new gates that locked automatically as trains approached.

Journalist Mr Bazlinton said the failure to disclose the document for so long amounted to a "cover up".

Image caption The girls were killed at Elsenham railway station in December 2005

"I have no doubt Network Rail will change their procedures to ensure that action is taken when problems arise, and to avoid a cover up happening again," he said.

"But I think this should be transparent and open. I want to know what they are going to do to change the way they report on accidents and how they account for them."

Olivia and Charlotte were killed on 3 December 2005. The crossing was fitted with warning lights and yodel alarms.

A London to Cambridge train passed over the crossing with the red lights and yodel sounding - a warning for foot passengers not to cross.

Christmas shopping trip

After the train passed, the lights remained on and the alarms continued to sound as another train, travelling from Birmingham to Stansted Airport, in Essex, was going to pass through the station.

The girls, who were about to catch another train for a Christmas shopping trip to Cambridge, opened the unlocked wicket gates and walked on to the crossing. They were both struck by the Stansted train and killed.

Outside court, Reg Thompson, Charlotte's father, said: "The horror of that day is always with us and the huge hole in our lives left by Charlie will never be filled.

"In the aftermath of the accident, Network Rail claimed the girls had acted recklessly and that somehow their youthful exuberance led directly to their deaths.

"I never believed that they were the architects of their own terrible end. It has taken six years to reveal the truth of what happened."

Safety features, including locked gates, were introduced in the summer of 2007.

In November last year, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) announced that it would prosecute NR over those deaths after reopening its investigation into the accident.

The criminal case came after the Transport Salaried Staffs Association joined the girls' families in demanding a public inquiry amid claims that two safety documents were not disclosed to the Essex Coroner at the 2007 inquest into their deaths.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

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