Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal operator fined £6.5m over death of Harrison Ballantyne, 11, in 2017

Court hears heartbreaking statements from boy's parents, grandparents and friends: 'The day he died, my life was taken too'

Wednesday, 4th August 2021, 11:06 am

The Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT) operator has been fined £6.5 million over an 11-year-old boy's death in 2017.

WH Malcolm was found guilty of negligence earlier this month after Harrison Ballantyne was fatally electrocuted on a stationary freight wagon he climbed onto to retrieve a football.

Her Honour Judge Adrienne Lucking QC also ordered the Scottish-based firm to pay £241,000 in costs at Northampton Crown Court today (Friday, July 30).

Harrison Ballantyne died at Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal near Crick in 2017

"This fine must bring home to directors and board members the need to comply with health and safety legislation," she said.

On June 27, 2017, Harrison and five friends were able to climb over a wooden fence next to a bridleway between Crick and Kilsby to access the 'head shunt' area of DIRFT to get their football back.

The Guilsborough Academy pupil climbed onto the wagon where he came into contact with overhead wires carrying 25,000 volts and suffered serious electrical burns.

One of the other boys was following Harrison, who was pronounced dead at the scene but was unable to be identified by his parents, onto the wagon before he was electrocuted.

On July 7, WH Malcolm was found guilty of two health and safety offences by a jury following a three-week trial prosecuted by rail regulator The Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

The charges were 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 failing to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of persons not in their employment.

A WH Malcolm spokesperson said: “Our thoughts and condolences remain with Harrison’s family and friends following this tragic incident four years ago.

"We acknowledge the decision of the court and will now take time to consider the detailed sentence.”

The court heard heartbreaking statements from Harrisons parents, grandparents, friends who witnessed the accident and their parents about the impact of his death in the years since.

His mother, Elizabeth, described coming to terms with the reality of how her son died as 'a torment I will never be free from'.

"The day Harrison died, my life was taken too. That life no longer existed and was replaced with a nightmare I can never wake up from," her statement from last month said.

"I've learned to smile again as I refuse to let what happened to Harrison ruin my other children's lives but the smile hides something no one else will be able to comprehend."

The court heard how WH Malcolm had been repeatedly warned about the trespassing issues in that area in the years before Harrison's death.

An inspection ahead of a visit by its insurers recommended installing fencing and carrying out a risk assessment in 2013.

Neither were done despite getting a quote for £4,015 for the fencing but bosses thought it was too expensive.

After another trespassing incident in 2015, a fence was installed on the north side of the nearby bridge but none to the south side which did not solve the issue, the court heard.

The court also heard how WH Malcolm routinely placed freight wagons under the otherwise inaccessible electrified lines for prolonged periods of time despite the presence of several unelectrified sidings.

The day before Harrisons death children were seen playing football in the 'head shunt' area by a passing train driver, which was reported to police.

Judge Lucking said it was 'inexplicable' that the site's boundary was not secured and WH Malcolm had 'failed' to make the appropriate changes, describing the firm as having a 'culture of cost-cutting'.

After the incident, ORR inspectors attended the site and issued WH Malcolm with an improvement notice requiring them to take steps to improve the boundary fence, which was installed.

ORR chief inspector of railways Ian Prosser said: “Our thoughts remain with Harrison’s family and friends.

“It is only right that WH Malcom 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, but this case serves as a reminder that should access to the railway not be properly controlled, serious events like this occur.”

Mrs Ballantyne went on to say how she would often break down in tears if someone asked her about Harrison or how many children she has.

Her other son does not talk about what happened and she dreads having to one day explain it to his two-year-old sister.

"The damage he sustained was nothing less than horrific and no counselling or tablets will help this - it will haunt me forever," her statement added.

Harrison's grandparents said in a statement they were on holiday in Spain when Harrison died and the journey home was 'the most difficult and emotional we have ever done'.

"This avoidable accident has broken our hearts," they added.

Several of Harrison friends who saw him die have suffered mental health problems, including dropping out of school, their behaviour worsening and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

One of the boys, now aged 16 and 12 at the time, said in a statement: "Since the accident it has taken me a long time to get over it, I struggled to sleep and make friends at school.

"My foster home broke down because of the impact of the accident. Harrison was my best friend.

"I miss going to places with him, he was a big part of my life and I saw him daily at school before this accident.

"I need the court and those responsible to understand the awful and ongoing impact on our lives since losing Harrison."