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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Bawden: 'I realised he was dead'
Train carriage wedged at Potters Bar station
Safety was questioned again after the Potters Bar crash
Author Nina Bawden lost her husband Austen Kark, former managing director of the BBC World Service, and was badly injured herself in last month's Potters Bar rail crash.

Speaking from her hospital bed, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the crash, the shock of her bereavement - and how a full public inquiry was the only "honest" course of action for the government.

"We were going to Cambridge, in order to go to a birthday party of an old friend.

"I remember that we bought first-class tickets, thinking it might be a crowded train - which was perhaps a mistake as it turned out - and I think I can remember getting on the train.

"And then I remember absolutely nothing until somebody from the depths of a black pit said: 'You've been in a train smash'.

"Then there were some dreadful dreams in which I knew my husband had been hurt, or something had happened.


I remember absolutely nothing until somebody from the depths of a black pit said: 'You've been in a train smash'

"I was in one of those hospital beds with the high sides. I knew if I could get out I could find him. I didn't think the children would have found him, even though they told me they had."

When asked how long it was before she realised her husband had been killed, Ms Bawden said: "I think it must have been about a week, really.

"I can remember all the children standing around looking down at me from a kind of cloud, and smiling and being lovely, but it was all very confused.

"I didn't really know what had happened or understand - until one day I woke and realised that trying to look for him was no good, that he was in fact dead.

Labour supporter

"They told me he was dead, and they'd seen him, and there'd been this terrible crash, and that I was horribly injured."


I really believed [Labour] would actually do something about the parlous state of the railways and the effects of privatisation

Ms Bawden was asked why she was not happy about the way the government had handled the inquiry so far.

She said: "Simply because they all seem to be intent on withdrawing their skirts a little bit.

"And also because I've been a member of the Labour Party all my life, and I really believed they would actually do something about the parlous state of the railways and the effects of privatisation.

"That they would have the courage and the political will to go ahead and do something, and make sure the company that ran the tracks was fit to run the tracks, and not just contracting it out to the cheapest offer."

Old ethos

Ms Bawden said that in recent years the culture of the railways had changed for the worse.


[Ministers] don't want to have to come to any disagreeable conclusions or face up to anything

"The railways used to have a kind of ethos - people used to be proud to work for the railways.

"I know, because some of my friends' fathers when I was a child worked for the railways.

"People were responsible for a length of track, and they knew the track and they looked at it. This doesn't appear to be happening anymore."

Ms Bawden said she wanted a full public inquiry because it was the "only honest way to conduct matters".

Nina Bawden, in a publicity photograph taken before the crash
Nina Bawden lost her husband of 48 years, Austen Kark, in the crash
"That everybody can be heard and everybody can question and we all know what the answers are.

"What else would you have if you wanted to discover what had happened after a disaster?"

Told ministers had not wanted to hold an inquiry until a Health and Safety Executive report on the crash had been published, she said: "The government would say that, wouldn't they?

"They don't want to have to come to any disagreeable conclusions or face up to anything, as far as I can see."

Ministers' motivation, she speculated, was "not want to get into trouble, to make things look better than they are."

'Cutting corners'

She dismissed as "a load of old rubbish" claims by rail contractor Jarvis that sabotage could have been responsible for the points failure assumed to have caused the crash.


I would like to see the railways nationalised and brought back in a decent, proper way

"Anyone with half an ounce of sense would see that, I would have thought. It's not worth answering.

"Of course it's poor maintenance, poor standards, cutting corners - all the sort of things that people do when they have no real feeling for the industry they are working in.

"I would like to see the railways nationalised and brought back in a decent, proper way.

"But if that can't be done immediately I would like to see Railtrack at least responsible, totally, with their own properly trained men."

When asked how confident she was that experts would get to the bottom of the crash, and take effective action to stop it happening again, she said: "I would like to say I was confident - but I'm not, I don't think."

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Crash victim Nina Bawden
"I would like to see the railways nationalised"

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