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Potters Bar: Still finding closure eight years on

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Kurt Barling | 17:36 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Potters Bar Train Crash

It is an unfortunate and common observation that inquests can take a very long time indeed to take place after unexpected deaths.

In particular, cases involving large organisations and corporate entities, families of the victims can wait years to learn just why their loved ones perished.

The Potters Bar rail crash happened on 10th May 2002.

The families have twice tried to get a full public inquiry to look into the circumstances of the tragedy where six passengers and one pedestrian lost their lives.

After all other legal avenues had been exhausted, finally the inquest could begin.

We, of course, know that the crash resulted from defective points. Lawyers for the family will set out to probe whether this resulted from systemic failings.

This is the beginning of the journey that the inquest will take over the next two to three months to get to the bottom of what happened and why.

The coroner, Judge Michael Findlay Baker QC, will help the jury of eight women and three men navigate through a mountain of evidence, much of it technical, to determine why things went wrong.

It seemed strange to be finally hearing eye-witnesses evidence after eight years.

Some witnesses who were passengers on the train found it difficult to remember precisely what happened, often citing the passage of time that had passed.

No such difficulties for Wing Commander Martin Rose who had flown in from his duties in Kuwait to attend the hearing.

On the 12.45 from King's Cross back then he was in the same first class section of the carriage as husband and wife Austen Kark and Nina Bawden.

He described his trip in the direction of Kings Lynn as initially uneventful. Then without warning he felt and heard a metal juddering.

He felt himself bouncing on his set and within seconds he sense the train had been derailed.

The carriage began to tilt and told the jury his first instinct was to "save his drink" he'd just purchased from the steward.

He then felt the carriage begin to roll and whilst he was trying to remain in his seat he had a sensation of weightlessness.

As former air crew this was not an unfamiliar feeling and he sensed himself floating out of his seat.

He described seeing Austen Kark (he only discovered who he was later on) also "floating" out of his seat.

Desperate to avoid a collision with him he stretched out an arm to grab hold of something and found a rail.

"This probably saved my life", he told the jury.

Austen Kark was not so lucky.

All this happened in a matter of seconds. Wing Commander Rose described the sensation of being inside a "tumble-dryer" as the carriage rolled a complete 360 degrees before coming to a halt across the two platforms and perpendicular to the track.

Once he had gathered his wits about him and with only minor injuries he was able to clamber across the carriage to search for the other two passengers in his compartment.

He found Austen Kark unresponsive and unconscious and Nina Bowden badly injured and coming in and out of consciousness.

He made a pact with her to stay put until help arrived.

Within minutes emergency services were on the scene and WC Rose had been evacuated to a local Sainsbury's which had been set up to tend the "walking wounded."

This dramatic testimony offered a genuine insight into the crash and the impact it must have had on so many of the terrified passengers; a reminder of the human cost when things go so badly wrong.

In the end that is why inquests happen to provide answers because of the human cost.

The current hearing in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, will no doubt add to the debate about whether something can be done to ensure inquests like this are held more swiftly, so relatives of those who lose their lives in such circumstances can find closure in a more timely manner.


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