Record fine after child dies at UK freight terminal


WH Malcolm Limited has been fined 6,5 million pounds (7,7 million euros) after being found guilty of negligence over the death of an eleven-year-old boy in 2017. The case comes to light just as the issue of railway trespass has taken the headlines across the UK and Europe.

The Scottish-headquartered operators of Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) in the English Midlands, has been sentenced at Northampton Crown Court following a prosecution brought by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The case involved the death of Harrison Ballantyne, a local child, who died in June 2017 after he easily gained access to the depot. WH Malcolm was found guilty of offences relating to health and safety legislation.

Railways are not a playground

Despite repeated campaigns, including Network Rail’s annual awareness-raising efforts and extensive engagement with schools by British Transport Police, trespass remains a significant issue on the British Railway network. However, the case involving WH Malcolm at DIRFT is a reminder that responsibility lies in many respects with the industry.

DIRFT operations building (ORR)

The industry in the UK frequently pleads that the railway is not a playground and that even innocent reasons for entering railway premises or the permanent way are not acceptable. However, the campaign still fails to impress criminal elements, who habitually attack installations.

Theft and vandalism are endemic

Trespass on the railway is often prompted by less innocent intentions. Theft and vandalism remain the most common reasons for illegal incursion onto the railway. Network Rail has continually brought the matter to public attention. The matter is also of concern in continental Europe, where the case was highlighted recently of another teenager – this time a 14-year-old girl who rode on a freight train through Germany.

Trespass for less innocent reasons, such as cable theft, remain an endemic problem for the rail industry (British Transport Police).

At Daventry, it would appear the issue involved no criminal intent. 11-year-old Ballantyne had, in the company of his friends, found their way into the terminal to retrieve a football. He had climbed on top of a stationary freight wagon, where he received a fatal electric shock from the overhead line. He was pronounced dead at the scene despite efforts from paramedics.

Failed to assess the risk to others

In handing down the 6,5 million pound fine in the case of Harrison Ballantyne, the operators of DIRFT were found guilty of two offences under the long-standing “Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974”. They were charged with “failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment were not exposed to risks to their health and safety through the conduct of their undertaking — and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 — failing to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of persons, not in their employment.”

During a trial that lasted three weeks, the court heard how ORR’s investigation found WH Malcolm had not only failed to assess the risk of unauthorised access to the terminal but also failed to implement appropriate measures to prevent unauthorised access to a part of the site where there were frequent freight movements and overhead line equipment energised at 25,000 volts.

Preventing trespass and educating children

“Our thoughts remain with Harrison’s family and friends”, said Ian Prosser, the Chief Inspector of Railways at the ORR, who brought the prosecution. “It is only right that WH Malcolm is held to account for failing to prevent unauthorised access and for failing to manage the risks in what should have been an entirely avoidable tragedy.”

The railway industry has done some excellent work in preventing trespass and educating children about the risks, said Prosser. “This case serves as a reminder that should access to the railway not be properly controlled, serious events like this occur.”

WH Malcolm Ltd issued a statement to local media. “We acknowledge the verdict of the court, and our thoughts and condolences remain with Harrison’s family and friends following this tragic incident four years ago.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

1 comment op “Record fine after child dies at UK freight terminal”

Chris McMahon|04.09.21|06:10

When I was a kid I sneaked into a shunting yard even though I knew it was wrong. I got a hiding from my Dad when I was caught and never forgot it.
No one blamed the railway. It was a different world.

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