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'Dangerous Dave' and Tube's 'institutional blindness'.

Byline: Melvyn Howe

A judge yesterday accused London Underground Limited of 'institutional blindness' after it allowed a regime of risk and danger to fester for four years.

He said the company had only paid 'lip service' to safety issues and fell 'lamentably short' of the standards expected of it, as track workers were repeatedly forced to risk death at night from electrocution and passing trains.

Fortunately no one was killed or seriously injured as the men laboured in the darkness with the track current still switched on and often while it was raining. But several suffered electric shocks, London's Blackfriars Crown Court heard, and one man ended up in hospital wired up to a heart monitoring machine for three and a half hours.

Judge John Samuels QC said because of the doubt surrounding the future of LUL regarding the Public Private Partnership proposals, sentence on six health and safety breaches the company had admitted would be deferred until next January.

But he ordered former Tube signals operations manager David Elkington (51) to pay a total of pounds 5,000 in fines and compensation. The judge branded Elkington - nicknamed 'Dangerous Dave' - a 'dictatorial bully' for forcing those under him to work in such dangerous conditions.

Elkington was found guilty after a trial last month of four counts of 'failing to discharge a duty' under the Health and Safety at Work Act between April 1998 and January last year. The judge ordered Elkington, of Lymington, Hampshire, to pay compensation to 13 of the 20 men who had worked under him. James Ageros, prosecuting, said the men were taken on to replace heavy duty cabling which ran alongside the central line carrying safety information to trains.

Often they had to work with metal tools within inches of live rails. During one incident a passing train forced workers to 'leap for their lives'.

A Health and Safety Executive inspector visited the site following an anonymous tip-off and, finding the power still on, issued a prohibition notice ordering the men off the track.

The jury was told Elkington even tried to intimidate the inspector, claiming it would be his fault if the central line had to be closed down.

Mr Ageros said not long afterwards Elkington, now a forklift truck driver for B&Q, was dismissed. The judge said London Underground had displayed 'institutional blindness towards safety issues'.

Nigel Baker QC, for LUL, said the company, with three previous convictions for breaching health and safety regulations, had since undertaken a pounds 1 m 'safety improvement review'.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 17, 2001
Words:421
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