Network Rail Infrastructure Limited, which owns and operates Great Britain’s railway infrastructure, pled guilty to a contravention of Sections 3(1) and 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 on 7 September 2023 at the High Court in Aberdeen.
The prosecution follows the derailment of a train at Carmont, near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire, on 12 August 2020 which resulted in the deaths of three men and injury to six passengers.
The advocate depute told the court that Aberdeenshire, along with much of Scotland, experienced a period of extreme, torrential rainfall in the early hours of 12 August 2020. This resulted in landslips and flooding across the rail network in Scotland.
Gravel and other stony debris washed out of a drain and onto the track near Carmont during the extreme rainfall on the morning of 12 August.
The 06:38 hours train from Aberdeen to Glasgow had been prevented from completing its journey south because of a separate landslip on the line south of Carmont. The train was stationary for approximately two and a half hours before being instructed to return north to Stonehaven so passengers could disembark.
On the way back to Stonehaven the train struck the debris washed out of the drain while it had been stationary, derailed and collided with a bridge parapet which caused the train to veer off the bridge and down the steep embankment below the bridge.
The lives of the train driver, Brett McCullough, the conductor, Donald Dinnie, and passenger, Christopher Stuchbury were lost because of the derailment. The remaining six people who were on the train at the time were all injured.
A multi-agency emergency response was instigated, and the incident was declared a major incident. The response was one of the most complex ever experienced by the responding emergency services and other investigating organisations.
A joint investigation by Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) under the direction of Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service found that Network Rail failed to ensure that its contractor, Carillion plc, constructed the drain in accordance with the approved design. The investigation also found the company had not inspected the whole drain since its construction, with an inspection of only the lower part of the drain taking place on 13 May 2020. It was also found that Network Rail Route Control staff had not been comprehensively trained to effectively analyse weather forecasts or how to use all available weather data resources.
Whilst the joint investigation was separate to the statutory safety investigation conducted by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, all agencies worked collaboratively where possible.
Following the conclusion of the criminal proceedings the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will begin the process for a Fatal Accident Inquiry to examine the full circumstances surrounding these deaths, identify the lessons that can be learned and help to avoid such incidents happening in the future.
The families have been informed of the decision to hold a Fatal Accident Inquiry and they will continue to be updated on any significant developments. Further information on the process will be made public when possible.
Speaking after the sentencing, Debbie Carroll, who leads on health and safety investigations for the COPFS, said:
“Network Rail’s failings led to the deaths of Brett McCullough, Donald Dinnie and Christopher Stuchbury and lifelong consequences for those who survived.
“The tragic loss of these three lives has had a terrible impact on families and friends and our thoughts are with them and those who were injured at this difficult time.
"This prosecution is the culmination of a highly complex and thorough large-scale investigation by Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) under the direction of the Procurator Fiscal.
“There have already been a number of lessons learned and industry wide changes made following this incident and the statutory safety investigation conducted by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch.
“To further serve the public interest a Fatal Accident Inquiry has been instructed to examine the full circumstances surrounding these tragic deaths, putting all relevant information into the public domain and help avoid such an incident happening again in the future.”
Detective Superintendent Alex Dowall of Police Scotland said:
“Firstly, I’d like to pay tribute to Donald Dinnie, Brett McCullough and Christopher Stuchbury, who tragically lost their lives in the incident in Stonehaven during August 2020. The thoughts of everyone at Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road have been with, and remain, with their families and loved ones.
“I also want to acknowledge the professionalism of the members of all the Emergency Services and the efforts of members of the public, who responded in the immediate aftermath and were met with what can only be described as a scene of devastation, and then worked tirelessly to investigate the causes of the incident.
“From the outset, this was an extremely challenging and complex investigation and I am grateful to colleagues in Police Scotland, British Transport Police, the Office of Rail and Road, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the RAIB, for their diligence and extreme hard work which allowed us to report the circumstances, which has culminated in the conclusion today.”
Detective Chief Inspector Marc Francey of British Transport Police said:
"First and foremost, our thoughts today are with the loved ones of Donald Dinnie, Brett McCullough and Christopher Stuchbury. They should have come home to their families that tragic day in August, but they so sadly lost their lives in the most horrendous of circumstances on the railway in Stonehaven.
“While today’s outcome could never begin to make up for that loss, I hope their families are now able to begin to find some closure following the conclusion of the proceedings today.
“This has been an incredibly thorough and complex investigation and we have worked closely with our colleagues at Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the Office of Road and Rail to gather the vital evidence necessary to secure today's conclusion.
“I must also acknowledge all our emergency service colleagues who responded to one of the most devastating scenes we can imagine in our line of work without hesitation and under immense pressure. What happened at Stonehaven will never be forgotten."
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said:
“Our deepest sympathies remain with the families of Donald Dinnie, Brett McCullough and Christopher Stuchbury.
"We note today's proceedings at the High Court in Aberdeen, which followed a multi-agency investigation by Police Scotland, British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) under the direction of Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service.
"Network Rail has made progress in implementing the safety recommendations that came from reviews of the failings that contributed to the accident. However, as highlighted in our 2023 annual ORR health and safety report, there remains much work to do as we all contend with the effects of climate change on our network.
"We must never forget what happened three years ago and we require the industry to be unrelenting in its work to maintain Britain's railways as one of the safest in Europe."