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Murulla Train Disaster: Manslaughter Charges

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Tuesday 7 December 1926, The Sydney Morning Herald



The hearing was commenced yesterday at the Central Criminal Court, before Mr. Justice Ferguson, of the charges against Ernest Turner, aged 38, enginedriver, and David Thomas David, aged 35, train guard, arising out of the Murulla disaster. Each is charged with feloniously slaying John Giles, at Murulla, on September 13.

Mr. Mack, K.C. (instructed by Mr. O’Halloran, of Tamworth) appeared for Turner; and Mr. Sproule and Dr. Evatt (instructed by Messrs. R. D. Meagher and Co.) for Davies.

The accident took place at Murulla on the night of September 13, and was caused by a portion of a goods train, which was standing at the station, breaking away and dashing into the mail train from Moree. Twenty seven of the passengers travelling by the mail were killed, and 38 injured. Turner was the driver of the goods train, and Davies the guard.

In his opening address to the Jury, Mr. W. T. Coyle, K.C. (Crown Prosecutor) said that the facts were painful to anyone. The two accused were men of the most excellent character, against whom nothing could be said. They had been in the railway service for a considerable time, and had risen to positions of trust. The case, Mr. Coyle explained, did not by any means purport to be a Royal Commission into the administration of the Railway Department, or whether the brakes were right up to date or whether there were defects in them. The question, pure and simple, was whether, after hearing the Crown case, the jury were of opinion that the charge had been proved against the men.

The men had made a great mistake, one that was not likely to occur again. If the jury were of the opinion that the men had made an error of judgment, free from gross negligence, they would be bound to acquit them of the charge. It was the duty of the guard to see that the air brakes were applied to the whole length of the train. On the night of the smash, a portion of the goods train became detached, and on arrival at Murulla the driver discovered that a portion of the train had broken away, but owing to the Westinghouse brake having been connected right through the train the remaining portion had been pulled up. The break in the train was fixed up at Murulla by a piece of rope, but the Westinghouse brake was not connected, although all the appliances were available. The men unwisely took a risk in not coupling up the brake. When the detached trucks were fastened to the main portion of the train, the strain on the rope for the purpose of making it taut, caused it to snap, with the result that, notwithstanding all the efforts of the guard and signalman to “brake” the trucks, they dashed down the incline, and collided with the oncoming Moree mail.

Errors of judgment, continued Mr. Coyle, did not make criminals of the men, but gross negligence made them liable. If the accused failed to link up the air brakes when the appliances were there, they were guilty of gross negligence. They were not there to try whether the train carried this or that, or whether the Commissioners had done this or that.

The jury were taken to the railway yards for the purpose of examining trucks which had broken away from the goods train. On their return, departmental evidence was given. The hearing had not concluded when the Court rose for the day.

Written by macalba

August 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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