Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Saturday, October 9, 1999 Published at 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK


Iain West: A witness to tragedy

Dr Iain West is leading the search of Carriage H

Senior Home Office pathologist Dr Iain West was the first person to enter the most seriously burnt-out carriage of the Paddington rail crash.

He is leading the search for any sign of human remains amongst the ashes of Carriage H, his team suspended above the floor on scaffolding.

Although the job would be too much for most of us, Dr West is well used to the grim scenes of disaster sites.

[ image: Jill Dando: killed with a single gunshot]
Jill Dando: killed with a single gunshot
The world-renowned Scottish scientist has been at the centre of inquiries into Britain's most famous crimes and disasters for more than a decade.

Dr West, 54, carried out the post mortem examination on BBC TV presenter Jill Dando when she was murdered earlier this year. He also declared Robert Maxwell's death a probable suicide in 1991.

Dr West was at the heart of the inquiries into the Kings Cross fire in 1987 and the Clapham rail crash in 1988, and played a key part in the inquiry into the Dunblane school massacre in March 1997.

In 1984 he was able to point detectives to the exact spot where the IRA Brighton bomb had been hidden, as well as showing that WPC Yvonne Fletcher had been shot from the window of the Libyan Embassy in London.

He also found key evidence that overturned the conviction of paratrooper Lee Clegg, jailed in 1991 for shooting teenager Karen Reilly in Belfast.

[ image: A fireball tore up an escalator in the King's Cross fire of 1987]
A fireball tore up an escalator in the King's Cross fire of 1987
Originally from Glasgow, Dr West graduated from Edinburgh University and is director of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy's Hospital in London. He lives in Sussex with his wife Vesna.

"My coping mechanism is to concentrate on the mechanics of doing the job, the dissecting, the measuring of wounds and injuries," he once told the Daily Mail.

"In noting and observing, my medical training takes over and I can block out the horror of what I'm seeing.

"When I have to deal with large numbers of bodies such as at Clapham or Kings Cross I suffer from disturbed sleep for a few weeks afterwards.

"I anticipate that as a normal human reaction. I find it goes away of its own accord."

The work of pathologists has been the focus of TV series including the BBC's Silent Witness.

But Dr West has short shrift for the show. "Amanda Burton's attitude was all wrong. She wouldn't last five minutes as a real pathologist."

Colleagues say he carries a pervasive whiff of mortuary disinfectant wherever he goes.

Two things make a good pathologist, according to Dr West.

"Good academic qualifications and training in an absolute determination to tell the truth no matter how much pressure is put on you to come to a certain conclusion."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

UK Contents

Northern Ireland

Relevant Stories

09 Oct 99 | UK
Crash experts pursue grim task

07 Oct 99 | London train crash
Changing policy on safety

Internet Links

The Royal College of Pathologists

Edinburgh University

Pathology 2000

Jill Dando tribute page

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Next steps for peace

Blairs' surprise over baby

Bowled over by Lord's

Beef row 'compromise' under fire

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Industry misses new trains target

From Sport
Quins fightback shocks Cardiff

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

IRA ceasefire challenge rejected

Thousands celebrate Asian culture

From Sport
Christie could get two-year ban

From Entertainment
Colleagues remember Compo

Mother pleads for baby's return

Toys withdrawn in E.coli health scare

From Health
Nurses role set to expand

Israeli PM's plane in accident

More lottery cash for grassroots

Pro-lifers plan shock launch

Double killer gets life

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer

From UK Politics
Straw on trial over jury reform

Tatchell calls for rights probe into Mugabe

Ex-spy stays out in the cold

From UK Politics
Blair warns Livingstone

From Health
Smear equipment `misses cancers'

From Entertainment
Boyzone star gets in Christmas spirit

Fake bubbly warning

Murder jury hears dead girl's diary

From UK Politics
Germ warfare fiasco revealed

Blair babe triggers tabloid frenzy

Tourists shot by mistake

A new look for News Online