At Ipswich Crown Court on 21st September 2016 Network Rail were fined £4 million for breaches of health and safety law which led to a fatality at Gipsy Lane pedestrian level crossing near Needham Market, Suffolk, in 2011. The Prosecution was brought by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) which is the United Kingdom’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor.
After primacy passed from the British Transport Police the ORR conducted an investigation into the death of Olive McFarland, 82, who was struck while using the crossing by an inter-city train travelling at 100mph from London to Norwich on 24 August 2011.
ORR's investigation found Network Rail had failed to act on substantial evidence that pedestrians had poor visibility of trains when approaching Gipsy Lane footpath crossing, and were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train.
Network Rail pleaded guilty to the charge under section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 28th June 2016, at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court and were sentenced following a two day sentencing hearing on 21st September 2016 at Ipswich Crown Court.
It is believed that the fine imposed yesterday is the highest that has been imposed so far under the new Sentencing Council Health and Safety Offences Guidelines which came into force on 1st February 2016. Network Rail submitted that as a public body a very large fine would have a significant impact on the provision of its services, a matter specifically addressed in the leading authority of R v Sellafield Ltd; R v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd  EWCA Crim 49. HHJ Levett dismissed this argument and stated that the he didn’t believe that the £4 million fine would have an impact on the delivery of safety. Network Rail has a turnover in the region of £6 billion.
Since 2009-10, encouraged by ORR, Network Rail has closed over 1,000 level crossings, including 76 in 2015-16.
Chloé Barton is currently acting as Legal Adviser to ORR for their safety prosecutions and was the lawyer with conduct of this case.
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