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17 January 2014, 13:26
Network Rail has lost its appeal against a £500,000 fine after a boy was seriously injured on a level crossing in Beccles.
The company challenged the fine in June 2013 after the boy was left with life-changing injuries. It follows an accident on an unmanned level crossing on a private farm road near Beccles in Suffolk, back in July 2010.
Today, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, sitting in the Court of Appeal, said there were no grounds for criticising the level of fines imposed.
Network Rail said the fine was excessive, given its guilty plea and the remedying of safety failures at the crossing, which didn't have a phone in place so that people could check if trains were due.
Lord Thomas said: "The company had spent £130 million in the past five years on level crossing safety but the crossing at this location should have been identified as having a sub-standard sighting time and had a telephone installed, which was one of the steps immediately implemented. In Network Rail's case, the actual harm was serious and even greater harm was foreseeable.
"We reject the submission made on behalf of Network Rail that a fine of £750,000 was appropriate only where there had been a fatality.
"However, a significant fine imposed on Network Rail would, in effect inflict no direct punishment on anyone, and indeed might be said to harm the public because the company's profits were invested in the rail infrastructure for the public benefit.
"A fine would, nonetheless, serve three other purposes of sentencing if it reduced criminal offences of the kind committed by Network Rail, reformed and rehabilitated Network Rail as an offender and protected the public.
Network Rail's record reflected the fact that accidents at level crossings were prevalent and that made clear the necessity for all the directors to pay much greater attention to their duties in this respect.
He said that a statement by the non-executive directors as to how they would reduce bonuses if safety performance was poor appeared to concentrate on a catastrophic accident and not accidents of the kind with which this appeal was concerned which had such a devastating effect on a child.
"Nonetheless, the fine of £500,000 imposed on a company of the size of Network Rail can only be viewed as representing a very generous discount for the mitigation advanced; we would observe that if the judge had imposed a materially greater fine, there would have been no basis for criticism of that fine."
The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) spokesperson told Heart:
“While the financial penalty imposed against Network Rail is a matter for the Court, no amount of money can ever truly reflect the impact of the life changing injuries suffered by a 10 year old boy in this tragic case.”