By Tara O’Connor, Local Democracy Reporter
The driver of a tram that overturned at Sandilands Junction killing seven people was heard saying “look what I’ve done, I’ve killed them” by a police officer as he climbed out of the wreckage, an inquest has heard.
The driver’s traumatised reaction to the crash on November 9, 2016, emerged at an inquest into the deaths.
Scott Matthewson, a lawyer for the coroner, questioned Gary Richardson, detective superintendent for British Transport Police.
Mr Richardson read witness statements today relating to the driver Alfred Dorris from the day of the fatal crash. He stressed that it is inevitable that witness statements can differ.
Passengers who were on the tram at the time recall being “thrown into the air” as the tram came off the tracks at the Sandilands Junction, the inquest heard.
While another said he heard the driver say “I think I blacked out”.
Mr Richardson read out an account from Patrick Bennett, a tram driver who was travelling the opposite way from Sandilands to Elmers End at 6.10am on November 9 when he saw a flash in the distance, before his tram lost power.
“He assumed incorrectly that somebody had thrown an item on the overhead lines,” said Mr Richardson.
“He called the control room and was told to go out onto the track to see if he could identify the problem. He left the tram and walked towards the Sandilands bend. It became clear that the tram had derailed.
“As he got closer he witnessed Alfred Dorris trying to smash the front window of his tram.
“He assisted Dorris to smash a hole in the window to allow passengers to exit. Through the process Dorris didn’t say anything to him, he says Dorris was shocked. He took Dorris to his tram and added that he couldn’t speak at all.”
Mr Richardson also read extracts from police officers who arrived on the scene around the same time – one arrived as Mr Dorris climbed through the windscreen and embraced his colleague before bursting into tears.
Reading from the statement of a Met police officer PC Mason, Mr Richardson said: “He saw a black male get out of the cab and heard the male saying something like “look what I’ve done I’ve killed them” he saw the driver hug another male who took him to one side.”
Some of Mr Dorris’ colleagues were sent to the scene and supported him as he was interviewed by police officers after the incident – one of whom remembers holding his hand in the back of a police car.
Reading from the statement of a revenue inspector on the trams, Mr Richardson said: “He was asked to stay with Mr Dorris in the rear of a police vehicle. He held the hand of Mr Dorris who told him: ‘I got confused and thought I was going the other way, I will be remembered as the driver that killed people.’”
According to Dorris’ first account, read out by Mr Richardson at Croydon Town Hall, the driver told a BTP officer that he was disorientated and thought he was going towards the Lloyd Park end of the tunnel instead of towards Sandilands Junction end.
The account read: “Somehow I was disorientated and somehow thought I was going towards the Lloyd Park end of the tunnel, I then realised my speed was too fast to exit Sandilands Tunnel.”
Mr Dorris told police he was thrown from his seat and landed sideways in the drivers cab, he said he thought he passed out before coming round and checking on passengers before trying to smash the front windscreen.
The jury heard that Alfred Dorris was 42 at the time of the crash and lived with his wife and child a 25-30 minute drive away from the Therapia Lane tram depot where he started work each morning.
Mr Dorris always worked the early shift as it suited his family life and was on his third day of work before a rest day on the day of the fatal derailment.
BTP engaged a private forensic company to examine Mr Dorris’ mobile phone for useful information.
This showed that he received a text message at 7.43pm and used the phone to access a document at 10.59pm on November 8, the day before the crash.
It also showed that he had a phone alarm set for 3.20am the next day – from this information they concluded that the longest period of uninterrupted sleep the driver had before heading to work was four hours and 21 minutes.