Socialist Worker

In brief

Issue No. 1927

Railway safety warning ignored

RAIL UNION leader Bob Crow braved media scorn when he called for scrapping level crossings in the aftermath of the derailment in Berkshire that claimed seven lives last weekend.

But just two months before the crash a major report warned of the risks of unmanned crossings. The report, by Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate (HMRI), said 18 of those killed on the railway in 2003 had died on the network’s 8,000 crossings. The HMRI’s director of rail safety, Dr Allan Sefton, said they pose the “greatest” potential risk.

The rail inspectorate would like to ban level crossings, but it risks the kind of furious reaction from big business and its media that has greeted every move towards improving safety.

A transport select committee meeting of MPs 12 months ago was turned into a ferocious assault on the inspectorate and its parent body, the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE), which were accused of “risk aversion” and wasting money.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling has ruled that the rail inspectorate should be moved from the HSE and placed under the body whose prime responsibility is the profitability of the rail companies.

Meanwhile no one disputes that replacing crossings with tunnels or bridges or manned signal boxes would improve safety. The only objection is cost.

Children locked up without care

Children of asylum seekers are being thrown into detention centres and denied proper care.

Last week the prisons watchdog said that children being detained at an asylum detention centre in Oakington were not being properly looked after. Prisons inspector Anne Ower said, “The detention of children should be exceptional, and only for very short periods.”

Of the 41 children at the centre, 15 had been held for between one and four weeks. And another child had been held for 21 weeks the previous year.

There was no independent social service assessment of children staying longer than a few days, though files showed some children were suffering distress.

Sarah Cutler of the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees said, “The prison inspector’s report shows increasing numbers of children are being locked up in an environment where they fail to thrive, where social services are slow to respond to concerns, and where children are not receiving a full education.”

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Sat 13 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1927
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