A rail freight company has been found guilty of a serious health and safety breach after a teenage trespasser suffered 'live changing' injuries after being electrocuted.
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd has today been convicted after a four-week trial of an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act, following a prosecution by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
Newcastle Crown Court heard that the 13-year-old victim suffered life-changing injuries after being electrocuted by 25,000-volt overhead line equipment at Tyne Yard in Gateshead.
The ORR told the court that trespassers at the yard, which is a major regional freight facility, visited a disused signal box - known to local children as the ‘haunted house’.
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd, which operates the yard, was accused of failing to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety through its activities.
The tragic accident occurred when two boys, aged 11 and 13, and two 13-year-old girls entered Tyne Yard on June 14, 2014.
After spending a short time in the ‘haunted house’, they walked onto another part of the site, where the boys climbed onto the roof of a stationary wagon, which was part of a 22-wagon train due to leave the depot later that evening.
While on top of the wagon, both of the boys made contact with the live current. This resulted in one sustaining serious injuries, while the other suffered minor burns.
Speaking at the beginning of the trial, Gordon Menzies, prosecuting, said the company should have carried out further measures to ensure trespassers could not get on to the site.
He said the site was filled with dangerous hazards, including live overhead wires and uncovered manholes.
He said: "There was not a single fence or credible obstacle to prevent these children from getting into the yard and being exposed to the risks. The defendant failed to ensure its boundaries."
The court heard that DB Cargo (UK) Ltd was fully aware the site attracted trespassers, shown by the presence of graffiti on buildings, fly tipping and vandalism, and reports of drinking and drug taking there.
One of the four youngsters told investigators that for a period ‘she used to go every day’.
But an investigation showed there was not a single fence or gate stopping people leaving a public bridleway – which passed the children’s homes in Birtley – and walking onto the yard.
Furthermore, there was no security patrol and no warning signs to deter trespassers at their point of entry.
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd had noted in January 2013 that the signal box needed to be demolished because of the risks it presented.
A further inspection in April of that year awarded the signal box the highest possible risk rating, and in May quotes had been obtained for demolition.
A further risk assessment in March 2014 confirmed the highest possible level of risk. Despite this, the signal box wasn’t demolished until October 2014 – four months after the incident.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said after the case: "Our thoughts at this time are with the victim who suffered such terrible injuries, the other children injured, and also their families and friends, who will have all been deeply affected by this traumatic event and who continue to live with the consequences of it.
“We are absolutely committed to protecting the health and safety of passengers, staff and anyone who comes into contact with the railway network and, as this prosecution shows, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action when necessary.
“We welcome the jury’s verdict and expect to see DB Cargo (UK) Ltd and others make proper risk assessments of their sites and ensure that necessary safety measures are taken.”
DB Cargo (UK) Ltd will be sentenced later.