BY YANN TEAR
One of the British Transport Police officers caught up in the Paddington rail disaster of 20 years ago says he is still haunted by the memory of that fateful day.
Police and emergency services personnel joined families in attending a memorial on Saturday morning to mark the 20th anniversary of the crash, which claimed the lives of 31 people.
Just before 8.10am on October 5, 1999 a rush-hour train collided almost head-on with a London-bound high-speed train which was heading for Paddington railway station.
The Thames Trains driver, Michael Hodder, 31, and the First Great Western driver, Brian Cooper, 52, were among those killed as the collision led to a fireball in which a coach was totally burnt out.
As well as the fatalities, more than 220 other people were injured. It was one of the worst rail disasters in British history.
A silence was held at the crash memorial site, high above the railway line at Ladbroke Grove, to mark the time of the disaster.
It was followed by a service at St Helen’s Church in north Kensington, where 31 candles, each bearing the name of one of the deceased, were lit alongside a 32nd candle for all the survivors.
Sergeant Martin Kenneally, one of the many BTP officers deployed that day, said: “I was driving home from a night shift when I heard over the car radio what was happening at Paddington.
“Within hours I was back at work and at the scene of the collision. I’ve been a police officer for 29 years and I can still vividly remember how shocked I was at the utter enormity of the crash site, and the complete devastation.
“You can’t do anything to prepare for what you’ll see at an incident such as this. But the most difficult part was hearing mobiles ringing throughout the crash site – knowing that at the other end of the phone, family and loved ones were calling.
“Despite the horror of the scene, we all knew we had a job to do and everyone put in 100 per cent. It wasn’t easy, we’re not designed to see these things and those images will always stay with me.”
Sgt Kenneally added: “For the next seven days I spent most of my time at the scene and what struck me was how generous everyone was. The community came together to offer what they could, I remember Boots the chemist bringing big bags of food and water to officers, even though we were well catered for.
“I have had the misfortune of attending many train crashes; Potters Bar, Hatfield and Ufton Nervet. I now use what I have learned to train new officers, preparing them for what they might see during a major incident.
“I sit on the National Exercising and Testing Team, and co-ordinate weekly exercises and table-top exercises with officers and the rail industry. You will never know how you’ll react to a crisis, but my one hope is that these exercises equip officers to make the right decisions.”
Speaking on the anniversary, Chief Constable Paul Crowther, said: “Ladbroke Grove will always be an event forever etched in our minds.
I can still clearly recall the remarkable bravery and professionalism of our BTP colleagues who worked relentlessly to save lives, help those critically injured and investigate exactly what happened – each of them were heroes.
“Twenty years may have passed since this tragedy, but that does not mean those who died will be forgotten. Each of them leave a permanent reminder of why rail safety is so paramount. Today we reflect on that dark day, and how we can each work together to ensure it never happens again.”
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims, and the families and friends of all those affected by the tragedy that took place at Paddington.
“The safety of passengers and staff will always be the priority on our railway.
We are all duty-bound to maintain the highest standards, ensuring such tragedies do not happen again.”