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Firm fined £1.2m after boys hurt in Bescot railway yard horror

By Deborah Hardiman | Walsall | Transport | Published: | Last Updated:

A rail operator has been fined £1.2 million for failing to carry out fencing repairs to keep out trespassers at a site where a schoolboy suffered 40 per cent burns.

The railway tracks near Bescot depot where the boys were injured

DB Cargo UK Ltd breached health and safety regulations when the 13-year-old was shocked by an overhead cable at Bescot Freight Yard, in Walsall, on June 1, 2017 after he climbed through a hole in a fence along with two friends.

The youth suffered serious burns to his body at the yard between Tamebridge Parkway and Bescot stations where the court heard 35 incidents of trespass, one fatal, had been recorded in five years.

He and a second boy, who suffered a minor burn, climbed onto a train wagon before coming into contact with a 25,000 volts cable at about 11.45am.

A third boy was unharmed during the incident, at the south end of the yard near Wednesbury.

Sentencing the company at Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court today, District Judge Mr Michael Wheeler, said: “Multiple assessments over a long period of time identified that this fence needed to be replaced.

Police and railway officials at the scene after the boys were injured

"It wasn’t that it wasn’t done promptly, it wasn’t done at all.”

The company previously admitted an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

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Alongside the fine DB Cargo was also ordered to pay costs £27,873 plus a victims’ surcharge of £170.

In his personal impact statement the youth, who has not been named, stated that the incident had left him with “physical and emotional” issues.

He was now “withdrawn” and struggled to “trust” others.

Mr William Davis, prosecuting for the Office of Rail & Road, told the sentencing hearing that the boy and two 13 year-old friends entered the freight terminal through a hole in the fence next to adjacent playing fields.

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Two of the three boys climbed on top of a train, and while standing on the roof, one suffered a devastating electric shock from the 25,000 volts overhead power line.

The second boy sustained minor burns to his hand, a broken arm, a foot injury and an irregular heart beat.

The third was not physically harmed, but has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and was having relationship difficulties at home.

Investigators and engineers at the scene at Bescot freight yard

The company previously admitted an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, that it failed to discharge its duty to conduct its undertaking in such a way so as to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment who might be affected thereby, including the three children, were not exposed to risks to their health or safety.

Alongside the fine DB Cargo, the UK’s biggest freight operator, said there were “difficulties” completely securing rail yards due to “determination” to enter such sites exposing trespassers to harm.

Mr John Copper, defending, told Wolverhampton Magistrates' Court: “In our submission this is not a systematic failing. You are dealing with an endemic problem all you can do is put systems in place to try and deal with them. That is what we have here.”

While the ORR which carried out the investigation welcomed the sentence.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “Our thoughts remain with the victims who suffered such terrible injuries, and their family and friends who have also been deeply affected.

“We welcome the sentence which shows the seriousness with which the court has taken this case, and we expect the rail industry to make sure their sites are secure and minimise the chances of a repeat of this incident.

“We hope this acts as a reminder to adults and children to stay off railway sites which can be very dangerous places.”

The hole in the fence where the friends accessed the yard

ORR investigators found that DB Cargo was aware that members of the public were often gaining unauthorised access to the site, with 35 incidents documented between July 2012 and June 2017.

On May 28, 2017 prior to the incident the company which has annual turnover of £297m recorded that several youths had been spotted clambering over locomotives at the yard near the M6.

Giving evidence for DB Cargo major hazard expert Mr Rod Sylvester-Evans said there were difficulties completely securing rail yards nationwide exposing trespassers to risk of injury.

Speaking after the hearing DB Cargo spokesman Richard Sears said: “First and foremost I would like to express our deepest sympathies to the children, their families and to the wider community.”

The company no longer runs the yard, after does have a base there.

In June 2015, Ashley Matthews, 19, of Willenhall, died in hospital after being was found with 70 to 80 per cent burns at the site which was then managed by a different operator.

In 2014, DB Cargo was convicted after a youth had both legs amputated after he was injured at its Tyneside yard for a similar offence.

The company was fined £2.7m last year.

Deborah Hardiman

By Deborah Hardiman
@Deborahh_Star

Senior reporter for the Shropshire Star based out of the head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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