COVER-UP – Grieving families condemn Network Rail

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PARENTS of two young girls killed on an Essex level crossing in 2005 accused Network Rail of a cover-up yesterday, after the rail privateer admitted three health and safety breaches.

Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were hit by a train at Elsenham station footpath crossing on December 3rd 2005.

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

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, opened the unlocked wicket gates and walked on to the crossing. They were both struck by the Stansted train and killed.

Network Rail claimed no fault. But in February last year, it emerged that a Network Rail risk report from 2002 had recommended new gates that locked automatically as trains approached.

Chris Bazlinton, Olivia’s father, from Farnham, Essex, said the failure to disclose the document for so long amounted to a ‘cover-up’.

He 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.

‘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.’

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

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

‘Only because of the efforts of the families . . . have they been forced to come out here and admit what they knew all along, and I find their behaviour despicable.’

Chris Bazlinton said: ‘I am angry because it should all have come out in 2006. They withheld documents from us and that makes us angry. They withheld documents from official inquiries, they withheld documents from a coroner.

‘This isn’t ending today, it’s not going to end with the sentence, because we’ve still got a lot of questions we want answered.

‘Who knew about this? How high did the cover-up go? And I do believe it was a cover-up, and we will be asking those questions of David Higgins (Network Rail Chief Executive) and of Network Rail and making sure that we get answers.

‘But I shall also be following up about the Coroners Court. We want to know what action the authorities will take because the inquest was a farce.’

Yesterday, Network Rail pleaded 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 March 15.

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.

A TSSA spokesman told News Line yesterday: ‘We welcome the fact that Network Rail has finally admitted its guilt and ended six long years of anguish for the families.

‘We agree with the families that there was a cover-up and we condemn it.’

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘The case for phasing out level crossings is now overwhelming.’