Croydon tram crash driver ‘using sick notes to avoid inquest’

The driver involved in the Croydon tram crash is using “sick notes” to avoid having to “face the music” at an inquest, a lawyer representing the victims’ families said.

Alfred Dorris is attempting to be excused from giving evidence at an inquest on the grounds of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Seven people died and a further 51 were injured in the derailment on November 9 2016.

Andrew Ritchie QC, acting on behalf of the families of five of the deceased, urged south London senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe to provide a summary of Mr Dorris’s “symptoms, treatment and prognosis”.

Seven people were killed in the crash (Steve Parsons/PA)
Seven people were killed in the crash (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Ritchie told a pre-inquest review hearing this would enable him to consider whether to ask Ms Ormond-Walshe to order an “independent report” from a consultant psychiatrist.

He wants the same action taken in relation to John Rymer, a senior figure at operator Tram Operations Limited (TOL) – a subsidiary of FirstGroup – at the time of the crash.

Mr Rymer is also seeking to avoid attending the inquest on medical grounds.

Mr Ritchie described Mr Dorris and Mr Rymer as “two key witnesses who are or may be responsible for this tragedy”.

He told Ms Ormond-Walshe: “Both have, to use common parlance, produced sick notes meaning that they don’t have to face the music.

“Whereas the families have expressed on a number of occasions concern about the sick notes that have been provided, we have accepted and trusted that your legal team have read them and that they say what has been asserted.

“We no longer are prepared to take that position.”

In relation to Mr Dorris, he commented that PTSD has not been found to be a “permanent condition preventing somebody from giving evidence”.

A crane is raised into position at the scene near the tram crash in Croydon, Surrey, in 2016
A crane is raised into position at the scene near the tram crash in Croydon, Surrey, in 2016

He added: “There are many treatment methods for it, and the families do not accept – even if the report last year said he had post-traumatic stress disorder – that it is incapable of being treated.”

Peter Skelton QC, representing TOL, told the hearing: “TOL do not accept the trivialisation of Mr Dorris’s condition in any shape or form.

“It is extremely serious and his mental state is extremely precarious.”

He added: “It is not understood that Mr Dorris’s condition has improved in any way. If anything, his personal circumstances are now worse.”

A report published by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch in December 2017 stated that Mr Dorris may have been in a “microsleep” for up to 49 seconds before the tram derailed on a sharp bend at almost four times the speed limit.

He was arrested at the scene of the crash but charges of gross negligence and manslaughter were later dropped by British Transport Police.

A further pre-inquest review hearing is expected to take place in April, with the full 13-week inquest due to begin in May.

The inquest was initially due to begin in October 2019, but was postponed due to the rise in coronavirus cases in London.

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, both from Croydon, were killed in the crash.