South London Memories: Remembering the Clapham train crash of 1988

Wreaths have been laid and a minute’s silence held to remember the 35 people killed in a train crash in South London 30 years ago.

There was a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial in Spencer Park in December organised by the Mayor of London, train drivers, London Fire Brigade, Wandsworth council and Network Rail.

Faulty wiring and signalling caused three trains to collide in Clapham at 8.13am on December 12, 1988.

Survivors and families paid their respects to the dead and almost 500 injured people at a church service.

Bosses from the emergency services and rail industry representatives also attended memorial events.

A 250-page report on the findings of the accident inquiry, chaired by Anthony Hidden QC, found the faulty wiring had caused an incorrect signal to be displayed to a train driver, who was driving into a blind bend and had no chance to stop.

Rescue workers clamber over the wreckage of three trains that crashed near Clapham Junction, London, to help injured passengers following a multiple train crash in which 35 people were killed and 500 were injured.

His train, which had come from Poole, ploughed head-on into the back of a stationary train, from Basingstoke.

The Poole train then veered and hit an empty oncoming train.

About 70 people suffered horrific injuries as the front section of the moving train was ripped open and completely destroyed.

John Bowis, who was the MP for Battersea at the time, said he drove to the “awful scene of carnage” as soon as he heard the news.

“It was something you never forget,” he said. Mr Bowis said the boys from nearby Emanuel School were “impressive” in the way they came to help the injured, but added: “I’m very conscious that some very young eyes and minds were confronted with awful things.”

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton said she remembered the “tragic” event “like it was yesterday”. Ms Cotton had only recently finished training as a firefighter.

She said: “As we mark 30 years since the Clapham train crash, our thoughts remain with all the victims and their loved ones.

“Our first job was getting casualties out of the trains and into the ambulances. “There were Christmas cards strewn everywhere as people must have been writing their cards on the train.

“It was a tragic incident and all of us who were there remember it and think of the members of the public who lost their lives during that terrible incident.”

A survivor is helped to safety following a multiple train crash near Clapham Junction.

Marilyn Robinson, 73, escaped the wreckage of the Basingstoke train with relatively minor injuries.

After hugging Ms Cotton at the wreath-laying event in Spencer Park, Ms Robinson said: “When these things happen to you, you have a choice. You can be a victim or you can be a survivor. “I chose to be a survivor.”

Ms Robinson went on to join Disaster Action to help other people affected by tragedies like the one she experienced.

British Rail was fined £250,000 for violations of health and safety law in connection with the accident.

A service was also held at nearby St Mark’s Church, and train drivers’ union Aslef held a separate event at 8.13am – the exact moment the crash happened.

Wandsworth council was represented at the wreath-laying by the Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Piers McCausland, and the leader of the council, Cllr Ravi Govindia. Cllr McCausland said: “This is an opportunity to reflect on what happened 30 years ago and remember the people who lost their lives on that tragic day.

This terrible event left a scar on our borough, and I want to thank all the people involved in the rescue effort and tell the loved ones of those who died that our thoughts remain with them.”

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