‘It was fate I survived Clapham 30 years ago
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