Train engineer Thomas Harding leaves the courtroom after hearing the verdict in Sherbrooke, Que. The Crown says it won’t appeal last month’s acquittal in Quebec of three former railway employees who were charged with criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people in the Lac-Megantic tragedy. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Crown won’t appeal ex-railway workers’ acquittal in Lac-Megantic trial

MONTREAL — The Crown will not appeal last month’s acquittal of three former Quebec railway employees who were charged with criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people in the Lac-Megantic tragedy.

Appealing the verdict is not in the public interest, prosecutors said in a statement Friday.

“Following the verdict, and in accordance with their role, the prosecutors conducted a rigorous analysis of the legal issues and concluded that, in the public interest, this file would not be appealed,” the statement read.

This coming Monday was the final date to appeal.

Jurors acquitted Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre on Jan. 19 on their ninth day of deliberations.

The prosecution had argued the three men were each criminally negligent in their own way for failing to ensure a train was safe before the wee hours of July 6, 2013.

That was when the unattended train carrying crude oil rolled down an incline before coming off the tracks in Lac-Megantic and exploding, killing the 47 people.

Harding was the train’s engineer, Labrie the traffic controller and Demaitre the manager of train operations.

Following the acquittals, Crown prosecutor Veronique Beauchamp stated it was unclear whether the Crown would appeal, adding that criminal negligence is one of the most difficult charges to prove.

None of the three accused presented a defence at the trial, but lawyers for each told the jury in turn the Crown had failed to meet its burden of proof.

Thomas Walsh, one of Harding’s lawyers, said after the verdict the trial should never have taken place, and that a broader public inquiry into the causes of the tragedy would have been more appropriate.

A few days later, Harding made a public statement in which he thanked his supporters and apologized for his role in the tragedy.

Harding, Demaitre and four other railway employees pleaded guilty to violating the Railway Safety Act on separate federal charges earlier this month.

The now-bankrupt Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway also pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay $1 million for violating the Fisheries Act.

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