Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 09:09 UK

Haunted by horrors of Paddington

Rescue workers at the scene of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash
The Ladbroke Grove rail crash claimed the lives of 31 people

By Andy McFarlane
BBC News

Ten years after a Thames commuter train and Great Western express crashed outside London, killing 31 people and injuring more than 400 others, survivors are marking the anniversary of the disaster.

The inexperienced Thames driver had accelerated through a red signal which, an inquiry later ruled, was hard to see and had been "passed at danger" seven times before.

At 0811 BST on Monday, exactly 10 years after the Paddington rail crash, survivors will join relatives of those who died at the memorial to the disaster in Ladbroke Grove.

Some spoke to BBC News about the incident:


Jonathan Duckworth was enjoying an unremarkable journey between Stroud, Gloucestershire, and London when the "glorious, clear morning" was torn apart by a loud crash which rocked coach G.

"I looked out of the window as we travelled through a fireball. You could feel the heat through the windows. It was absolutely shocking," says the former shopping centre manager.

Jonathan Duckworth
Mr Duckworth needed treatment for post traumatic stress disorder

"I remember seeing a row of shocked faces as people on the Thames train passed us. For a while, I thought a bomb had exploded."

Soot from burning diesel shrouded the windows, before the father-of-two was thrown across the carriage as the express derailed and then turned onto its side.

"We scraped along the rails for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds," the 51-year-old recalls.

As all fell silent, Mr Duckworth feared another train would plough into the carriage.

Doors blocked

With the doors blocked, passengers smashed their way out of the end of the carriage into a dusty, smoky scene of devastation - "silent, apart from distant sirens and birds tweeting".

Passengers looked on hopelessly as barely 50 yards away flames licked the curtains of coach H through its broken windows.

Mr Duckworth phoned work, saying he would miss a meeting - "It's strange what goes through your mind" - before mobiles began ringing all around as people checked on relatives.

Ladbroke Grove crash scene
The 0603 BST Great Western Trains Cheltenham to Paddington express was approaching London's Paddington station from the west
Travelling from the east was the 0806 Thames Trains service from Paddington to Bedwyn
At 0808 the Thames train passes red signal SN109 at 41mph and continues accelerating
Points beyond the signal carry the train onto parallel tracks and into the path of the express
At 0811, despite both drivers braking, the trains collide head-on with a combined speed of 130mph
An inquiry later highlights several failings, notably poor visibility at SN109 which had been passed at red seven times previously

Shepherded to a local primary school, where a makeshift triage centre directed him to hospital, he learned he had escaped with severe bruising.

However, back at work, the crash took its toll. Colleagues noticed his memory faltering.

Then, during one meeting, Mr Duckworth caught a news bulletin featuring the Selby rail crash. The sight of overturned carriages sent him into a cold sweat. Quivering and unable to talk, he realised he needed help.

Eighteen months of counselling for post traumatic stress disorder followed, taking three days to recover from intense sessions.

Ten years on, he remains unable to work full time. His new job, as an agent for a computer software firm, has flexible hours.

Bad spells can be triggered by news stories or anniversaries.

"I avoid fairgrounds where there's flashing lights, smoke and G-forces," he adds, remembering how an action movie sequence aboard a train left him needing counselling.

As chairman of Paddington Survivors Group, contact with fellow victims campaigning for rail safety improvements has helped.

But while some normality has been restored to his life, Mr Duckworth says the horrors of that bright autumn day will stay with him forever.


For Julian Spooner, 41, the smell of diesel will forever remind him of one of the most traumatic days of his career.

After a busy night at North Kensington Fire Station, the young sub officer had interrupted his breakfast to respond to a seemingly routine call about a garage fire.

Julian Spooner
Carriage H was burning ferociously - you couldn't get within 30 feet of it
Julian Spooner

The two Blue Watch crews had barely arrived at the scene - one minute or so along Ladbroke Grove - when the severity of the situation hit home.

"Flames were licking up a good 50 feet, there was a massive pall of smoke and fire all over the crash site where diesel had spilled," recalls Mr Spooner, now station manager at Battersea, south London.

To get to the site, firefighters used ladders to scale 12-foot security fencing before opening a gate to allow engines through.

Tasked with directing the crews, Mr Spooner recalls the struggle to retain emotional detachment in the face of 300 or so passengers - many "horrifically injured" with broken limbs, severe burns or metal embedded in their bodies.

With 10 minutes to wait before help arrived, he faced a heartbreaking dilemma.

"We didn't know how many people were in carriage H but it was burning ferociously. You couldn't get within 30 feet of it. We knew the chances of [anyone] coming out alive were fairly slim."


Mr Spooner ordered his men to redirect the hoses from the express towards one of the Thames Trains coaches, where six people were trapped.

"It's the kind of decision you hope you never have to make," he acknowledges.

The fire was extinguished and crews spent four painstaking hours working with paramedics to cut free the casualties. Four survived.

Paramedics at the scene
Emergency services worked for hours to free trapped survivors

After seven hours, they left the scene and were back at work at 6pm.

Mr Spooner believes "getting on with the job" was the best thing, although it took several weeks to come to terms with what he had seen.

"Whenever you turned on the TV, read a paper or talked to your friends, it was about that incident and we were passing the scene all the time," he recalls.

"Even now, a blue autumnal sky brings it all back."

Apart from the horror, however, his abiding memory is the humanity showed by passengers to one another.

"Complete strangers were helping each other off the train, trying to give first aid. It was quite something."


When Robin Kellow first saw TV footage of the flames and smoke at Ladbroke Grove, he thought it was just "another incident".

But when he realised his daughter, 24-year-old IT worker Elaine, from west London, was due to travel out of Paddington minutes before the crash, panic set in.

For two hours he frantically called her friends, rail authorities and hospitals and established she must have been on the train. Elaine had not called home from her mobile.

Elaine Kellow
Elaine was described as "popular, loved by everyone".

"It was a desperate search and then slow dawning realisation that it was going to be the worst thing that could happen," says Mr Kellow.

A day later the family's fears were confirmed.

"It destroys everything," he says. "There's no wedding, no grandchildren; the whole future goes."

Mixed with grief, was a growing sense of anger.

A public inquiry pointed to a catalogue of failures and made 89 recommendations to improve safety, while Network Rail - which took over responsibility for infrastructure from Railtrack in 2002 - was fined £4m and Thames Trains £2m.

But despite years of campaigning by victims' families, no individuals were prosecuted.

"The line out of Paddington is safer now but they should have changed that earlier," says Mr Kellow.

"It was such minor things; the alteration of the signal, the changing of points. I just feel let down."

'So painful'

Maureen Groves cannot bear to talk about the day she lost her daughter, Juliet.

"It's so painful. It doesn't get any easier. It just seems like yesterday," she says.

Juliet, 27, from Shepherd's Bush, west London, had just achieved full qualification as an accountant with the country's 10th best exam results.

Scene of Paddington rail crash
An inquiry into the crash made 89 recommendations

She combined natural intelligence with an endeavour to overcome being partially sighted, her mother says.

"That's one of the hardest things; that it should happen after all her hard efforts."

Along with the Kellows, Mrs Groves and husband Denman will spend Monday morning in quiet reflection at the memorial site, before meeting Juliet's friends to tie a ribbon around a tree they planted for her in Hyde Park.

"Anniversaries and birthdays are still dreadfully hard," says Mrs Groves.

"It will be nice meeting up with the other bereaved families. They've been wonderful supporters because we all understand what each other have been through.

"As my husband says, though, we should never have met."

Print Sponsor

Paddington remembered 10 years on
05 Oct 09 |  London
Paddington Crash 10 years on
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Paddington: Lessons learnt?
06 Apr 04 |  UK

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