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Croydon tram disaster: Driver ‘broke speed limit before derailment’, court hears

Driver Alfred Dorris is accused in an Old Bailey trial of a health and safety failure in the Croydon tram crash   (James Manning/PA)
Driver Alfred Dorris is accused in an Old Bailey trial of a health and safety failure in the Croydon tram crash (James Manning/PA)

The driver in the Croydon tram disaster was going at more than three times the speed limit when his vehicle crashed and claimed the lives of seven passengers, an Old Bailey trial has been told.

Alfred Dorris, 49, was at the helm of the morning 2551 service which toppled on to its side near to the Sandilands stop on November 9, 2016.

He is now on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of a health and safety failing in a criminal case brought by the Office of Rail and Road.

Prosecutor Jonathan Ashley-Norman KC told jurors of a “terrible death toll”, outlining how seven passengers died and 19 more were seriously injured as they were flung around as if “inside a washing machine”.

He named the victims who lost their lives as Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, 35, both from Croydon.

“The seven deaths on the Croydon tram system early on the morning of 9 November 2016 are likely to persist in the memory of all those who were adults in the UK on that day”, said Mr Ashley-Norman.

“The morning was an ugly one - wintery, dark and rainy. Tram 2551 was plying the route from New Addington via East Croydon to Wimbledon.

“One of the tram-stops on that route is Sandilands. The approach from the east is preceded by a sharp left-hand turn.

“Drivers are instructed that speed at that turn is to be reduced to 20 kph to allow trams to negotiate the curve safely. A sign on the bend confirmed that instruction. The tram the subject of these proceedings did not reduce speed to 20 kph to enable it to take the turn safely.

Tram accident (PA Wire)
Tram accident (PA Wire)

“Instead, the tram was travelling at in excess of 70 kph when it entered the turn. At that speed it could not hope to hold the track.

“The inner wheels lifted from the track and the tram derailed. It tipped onto its side, causing those inside to be flung around as though, as one survivor put it, they were inside a washing machine.

“Windows smashed and doors ripped off. Those who died were ejected through the broken windows and trapped between the overturned tram and the track.

“In a matter of seconds, tragedy was visited upon seven families who were bereaved, and many others who were seriously injured. For a want of attention on the part of the driver involved that morning, death and serious injury followed.”

Mr Ashley-Norman said Dorris is accused of “failing in his duty to take reasonable care of the passengers”, but he denies the charge.

He will argue “factors outside Mr Dorris’ control involving the infrastructure – particularly the infrastructure around Sandilands – combined to cause him to become disorientated.”

The court heard Transport for London and TOL are also guilty of health and safety failures in the running of the Croydon tram network.

But Mr Ashley-Norman added: “Their failures do not exonerate Mr Dorris.”

In interviews, Dorris insisted he “had become disorientated” and was confused as to which direction he was travelling.

“I was upset, confused, you know, traumatised”, he said.

“One minute I’m okay driving and then the next just thinking, where am I what’s going on, sort of…I’m not sure where I am?”

Dorris said the bend where the disaster happened “just sort of crept up on me”, and he added: “I wouldn’t say it was a loss of concentration. I would say it was more something that I wasn’t in control of with regards to disorientation.”

Dorris also denied suffering a blackout or falling asleep at the wheel.

Dorris of Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham, south-east London, denies a single charge of failing to take reasonable care at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The five-week trial in front of Mr Justice Fraser continues.