Croydon tram crash: Driver's acquittal like being stabbed in the chest, says victim's relative

Croydon tram crash driver Dorris, 49, was allegedly speeding when the vehicle derailed on a sharp corner near the Sandilands stop in south London on 9 November 2016.

Driver Alfred Dorris at Croydon Magistrates Court for the first court hearing in the Croydon tram crash prosecution. The Office of Rail and Road is prosecuting Transport for London, FirstGroup-owned Tram Operations Limited and Dorris after seven passengers died and 51 were injured in the derailment in south London in November 2016. Picture date: Friday June 10, 2022. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Alfred Dorris was the driver of a tram that crashed in Croydon, south London, in November 2016. (PA)

The granddaughter of a man killed in the Croydon tram disaster which took the lives of seven people and seriously injured a further 21 passengers has said the driver's acquittal is like being "stabbed in the chest".

Relatives of the seven people killed in the south London crash were left "deflated" on Monday when Alfred Dorris, 49, was cleared of failing to take “reasonable care” of the health and safety of himself and his 69 passengers on Tram 2551 in November 2016.

Dorris was doing three times the speed he should have been going when his tram derailed on a sharp corner at Sandilands.

Mr Dorris denied he had a “micro-sleep” and said he became disorientated in the tunnel on approach to the curve, believing he was heading the other way.

His confusion was blamed on a combination of external factors including poor lighting and signage in the Sandilands tunnel complex, darkness and bad weather.

A jury deliberated for less than two hours on Monday to reach its unanimous verdict following the prosecution brought by the Office of Road and Rail (ORR).

But relatives of the victims hit out at the acquittal.

Dane Chinnery, 19, Philip Seary, 57, Dorota Rynkiewicz, 35, Robert Huxley, 63, and Philip Logan, 52, all from New Addington, and Donald Collett, 62, and Mark Smith, 35, both from Croydon, all died in the crash.

Philip Logan's granddaughter, Danielle Wynne, was at court for the verdict. She said: “There has to be some kind of accountability.

“A not guilty verdict to me is like someone stabbing me in the chest. It feels so deflating.

A passenger on the Croydon tram that derailed in 2016 allegedly feared for their safety during a “near miss” 10 days before the tragedy.
Alfred Dorris is on trial over a fatal tram derailment in Croydon, south London, in 2016. (Rex Shutterstock)

“If I got into my car and I did what he did at the speed that he did, then I would go to prison.”

She added: “My grandad and this incident will never be forgotten. It’s a date that’s etched into my mind.

“Our family feels truly let down by the justice system.”

Wynne said: “I don’t believe that morning [Dorris] set out to kill anyone. But he did kill people. There has to be some kind of accountability.

“As far as I’m concerned, accident or not, he’s taken no accountability for his actions that morning.

“There was only one person who was in control of that tram on that morning, and it was that driver.”

Giving evidence on Thursday, Mr Dorris wept as he said he became confused and was convinced he was heading in the opposite direction, only realising his mistake when it was too late.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Members of London Fire Brigade look at the overturned tram at the site near Sandilands Tram stop in Croydon on November 9, 2016 in London, England. Five people are trapped after a tram derailed in a tunnel near Sandilands Tram stop in Croydon at 6.04am this morning. A further 50 people have been injured. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Members of London Fire Brigade look at the overturned tram at the site near Sandilands tram stop in Croydon on 9 November 2016. (Getty Images)

He said: “I woke up in the morning expecting to have a normal day. I did not leave with the intention of not driving with reasonable care for my passengers or myself.

"I’m a human being and sometimes as a human being things happen to you that you are not in control of.

'I’m sorry that I became disorientated. I’m sorry I was not able to do anything to stop myself from becoming disorientated.

"And I’m deeply sorry I was not able to do anything to reorientate myself and stop the tram from turning over. I’m deeply sorry."

Joe Collett, whose brother Donald died in the derailment, said there were “no winners at all” and that he felt the system had let him down.

File photo dated 10/11/16 of investigators at the scene after a tram derailed and overturned in Croydon, south London. Tram driver Alfred Dorris is set to stand trial at crown court over his alleged role in the Croydon crash that claimed the lives of seven passengers in 2016. he has denied a charge of failing to take reasonable care at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Issue date: Friday July 8, 2022.
Investigators at the scene after a tram derailed and overturned in Croydon, south London, in November 2016. (PA)
Flowers are laid at the unveiling of the new memorial marking the first anniversary of the Tram crash in Croydon, Surrey.  Featuring: Atmosphere Where: Croydon, United Kingdom When: 09 Nov 2017 Credit: Theo/
Floral tributes at the unveiling of a memorial to those who died in the Croydon tram crash. (PA)

He told reporters outside the Old Bailey he was “very disappointed” because “the only one who knows what happened and the truth is Mr Dorris”.

He said: “He had done the journey several thousand times and this day (he) said he had a bad day – but seven people had a worst day.

“He knows what he’s done. He knows the truth. He was the driver.

“I’ve got no real feelings against him because he didn’t intend to do what happened.”

Driver Alfred Dorris arrives at Croydon Magistrates Court for the first court hearing in the Croydon tram crash prosecution. Picture date: Friday June 10, 2022. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Alfred Dorris is on trial after the tram he was driving derailed and overturned, killing seven passengers. (PA)

Transport for London (TfL) and Tram Operations Limited (ToL) have previously admitted health and safety offences relating to significant failings ahead of the catastrophic derailment and will be sentenced next month.

Previously, the court heard it had been a wet, wintry morning when Tram 2551 embarked on its route from New Addington to Wimbledon via East Croydon.

At a sharp left turn on the approach to Sandilands, drivers are instructed to reduce speed to 12mph (20kph) to safely negotiate the curve, with a sign on the bend confirming it.

Mr Dorris was travelling in excess of 43mph (70kph), causing the inner wheels to come off the track and the tram to tip over.

Survivors described being “flung” about as if in a washing machine or a pinball machine, then a moment of silence before people began to scream and shout.

Prosecutor Jonathan Ashley-Norman KC said it was an “accident waiting to happen”.

Mr Dorris was described as having an “impeccable” past record and was seen as one of the better drivers.

The court heard of an alleged “near-miss” 10 days before the derailment in an identical location at a similar time involving another driver.

The Old Bailey jurors were not told that an inquest in 2021 concluded that the victims died as a result of an accident and were not unlawfully killed.

Mr Dorris had been excused from attending the inquest because he was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Watch: Driver in fatal 2016 Croydon tram crash goes on trial