‘It was fate I sur­vived Clapham 30 years ago

Sunday Express - - CRASH THAT CHANGED THE RAILWAYS - By Eu­gene Hen­der­son

YOU might think sur­viv­ing one of Bri­tain’s worst rail dis­as­ters would put you off train travel for life.

But Lee Mid­dle­ton, who walked away from the Clapham rail crash 30 years ago, has con­quered his demons and now spends a day each week spot­ting lo­co­mo­tives.

The re­tired civil ser­vant was in the first car­riage of the Bournemouth to Wa­ter­loo ser­vice when it slammed into the back of a sta­tion­ary lo­co­mo­tive near Clapham Junc­tion on De­cem­ber 12, 1988.

Mo­ments later an empty train trav­el­ling back from Lon­don smashed into the wreck­age.

Thirty-five peo­ple lost their lives that day – 29 of whom were in the same car­riage as Lee. A fur­ther 484 peo­ple were in­jured, 69 se­ri­ously.

A sig­nal fail­ure had led to the col­li­sion. It was caused by a Bri­tish Rail en­gi­neer work­ing his 13th con­sec­u­tive seven-day week. No one had checked his re-wiring work.

Ver­dicts of un­law­ful killing were re­turned at the in­quest into the deaths and Bri­tish Rail was fined £250,000 af­ter plead­ing guilty to fail­ing to ensure the safety of its employees and pas­sen­gers.

An in­de­pen­dent in­quiry chaired by An­thony Hid­den QC crit­i­cised the health and safety cul­ture within the na­tion­alised in­dus­try at the time.

His 93 rec­om­men­da­tions changed the way the UK’s rail sys­tem was De­cem­ber 28, 1879 The Tay Bridge disas­ter killed around 75 peo­ple when it col­lapsed in a gale. May 22, 1915 Quintin­shill crash. 226 died and 246 were hurt when a troop train hit a lo­co­mo­tive and coal trains near Gretna in Scot­land. Oc­to­ber 8, 1952 Three trains col­lided at Har­row and Weald­stone sta­tion in the morn­ing rush hour. 112 were killed and 340 in­jured. De­cem­ber 4, 1957 Lewisham rail crash. 90 died and 173 were hurt when two trains col­lided in dense fog on the South Eastern main line. Novem­ber 5, 1967 Hither Green rail crash, pic­tured. 49 peo­ple died when a Hast­ings to Char­ing Cross train de­railed at 70mph.

main­tained. But for those per­ished, it came too late.

It was pre­cisely 8.13am on that Mon­day when hun­dreds of lives were changed for ever.

“There was a deaf­en­ing noise and then all hell let loose,” said fa­ther-ofthree Lee, who boarded the train at Brock­en­hurst. “We were thrown around the car­riage like rag dolls.”

When the noise stopped, Lee found him­self on the floor with a metal bar press­ing against his neck.

“I re­ally thought I was go­ing to die,” he said. “I looked up at the sky, then I heard peo­ple cry­ing and

who moan­ing. I re­ally thought, ‘I’m not get­ting out of here alive’.”

Lee, who was 39 at the time, was pinned to the floor when part of the car­riage ceil­ing fell on him. He be­lieves the metal saved him from fur­ther in­jury.

When fire­fight­ers ar­rived on the scene, one used a sledge­ham­mer to jack up the metal bar and free him.

Lee was rushed to hos­pi­tal with a bro­ken leg and col­lar­bone.

Like many sur­vivors, he was vis­ited by Prime Minister Mar­garet Thatcher be­fore he was trans­ferred to Southamp­ton Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal to AF­TER the crash, an in­quiry led to a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions be­ing brought in on the rail­ways.

It be­came manda­tory to test sig­nalling work and lim­its were im­posed on the hours rail employees could work.

It also rec­om­mended Au­to­matic Train Pro­tec­tion – which ac­ti­vates an emer­gency brake – be in­stalled but the Gov­ern­ment balked at the £750mil­lion bill and in­stead pri­va­tised the rail­ways.

The Clapham disas­ter was also quoted when a new law on cor­po­rate man­slaugh­ter was in­tro­duced in 2007.

be closer to home for Christ­mas. He was dis­charged on Jan­uary 11, 1989, but needed a bone graft and was off work for nine months.

The 69-year-old cricket lover is sure he sur­vived be­cause it sim­ply “wasn’t my time”.

“Peo­ple have asked me if was lucky and I say yes and no,” he said.

“I was early that morn­ing so that train was not the one I usu­ally got into Lon­don. I had met my friend and we man­aged to find the only two seats to­gether in the car­riage.

“The chap op­po­site us died and the two peo­ple sat be­hind us both per­ished. We sur­vived. So al­though you could say it was fate that I got on that train, it was also fate that we lived – and my luck didn’t end there.

“Be­cause the bar was pin­ning me to the bot­tom of the car­riage, it meant I didn’t see any­thing.

“I’m grate­ful for that be­cause I didn’t re­ally wit­ness the car­nage and I haven’t suf­fered night­mares.

“I heard that those who weren’t as badly in­jured but saw the dev­as­ta­tion af­ter the crash are the ones who re­ally strug­gled.”

Lee, who now lives in Winch­ester, Hamp­shire, had al­ways been a rail en­thu­si­ast but af­ter the crash he would sit for hours at a lo­cal sta­tion watch­ing the high-speed ser­vices pass through.

“It took some time but even­tu­ally I over­came my fear,” he said.

“Now ev­ery week I go to the sta­tion with a friend for a cou­ple of hours and jot down num­bers.

“It prob­a­bly seems odd, given what I’ve been through, but I love trainspot­ting.”

To mark the 30th an­niver­sary of the disas­ter, Lee will do the same thing he has done ev­ery year since – pray for the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies and light a can­dle.

“This year will be no dif­fer­ent,” he said. “For me, it’s al­ways a day of quiet re­flec­tion.

“Time passes so quickly, I sup­pose some peo­ple will have for­got­ten all about that ter­ri­ble day. Oth­ers, like me, can never for­get.”

DEV­AS­TA­TION: Work­ers clam­ber over the wrecked train car­riages, in which 35 peo­ple died. Be­low, crash sur­vivor Lee Mid­dle­ton, 69

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