Croydon tram inquest delayed for another five months due to lockdown

T

he inquest into the Croydon tram crash was today postponed until Spring next year in the latest delay caused by the pandemic.

It means the bereaved families of the seven passengers who died in the crash in November 2016 will have to wait four-and-a-half years for answers.

The long-delayed inquest had originally been due to start last month but was postponed until mid-November when London was placed in the “Tier 2” status of covid restrictions.

Today coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe, in a letter to all parties in the hearing, said proceedings would now be shelved until March 1 next year at the earliest as a consequence of England moving into a month-long lockdown.

Courts are exempt from the lockdown and can continue to operate. But the coroner said she had to decide whether it was essential to proceed now or wait until the Spring.

She wrote: “I understand the desire of all participants, and especially the families of the deceased, to progress these Inquests to a conclusion as soon as reasonably practicable.

“However, we are going into lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus… It is therefore likely that a hearing of this size can be conducted much more safely in Spring 2021.  

“In my judgment, it is not so essential that we proceed now rather than in, say, March/April 2021, that I should unnecessarily increase the risk to the health of participants.”

Ben Posford, of London law firm Osbornes Law, who is representing five of the seven families, said today: “Understandably the families are frustrated and upset by this latest postponement, and coming so near to the fourth anniversary of the tragedy on November 9 makes it even harder to bear. They sincerely hope the inquest can start without interruption in the spring.”

Last week Ms Ormond-Walshe had said the hearing would resume on November 16 but at Fairfield Halls rather than Croydon council chamber, as the larger venue allowed better social distancing. 

Seven people died and 61 were injured, 19 seriously, in the early-morning crash at Sandilands junction on November 9, 2016.

The victims were Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Logan, 52, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, and Robert Huxley, 63, all from New Addington, and Mark Smith, 35 and Donald Collett, 62, of Croydon.

It was disclosed at a pre-inquest hearing in September that tram driver Alfred Dorris was considered too ill to give evidence. The Crown Prosecution Service announced a year ago that Mr Dorris would not face any criminal charges for the crash.

An accident report in 2017 said the crash was probably caused by Mr Dorris losing concentration during a “microsleep”. It said the tram was travelling too fast — 46mph — to negotiate a sharp bend, causing it to overturn. The speed limit for the bend is 13mph. The report also criticised the management culture in which Mr Dorris operated, and the signalling system.