Chapter  1:  

              When lightning strikes


Friday, 23rd February 2007, the end of a long and busy week for Richard. He was in London, looking forward to a break he had planned in Scotland, staying with old friends, doing some walking and a bit of climbing.  He had thought of flying to Glasgow but meetings took up the whole day and all the cheap flights had gone. So the train it was and, although that took longer, it was a chance to unwind, to read a book and recover from the exertions of the day. At Euston Richard got a seat on the Glasgow Express and settled down for the long journey north. The ride was smooth and uneventful up to Preston, the last stop before Glasgow.  But, as they sped through Cumbria, things suddenly changed. The train began to vibrate violently. Richard knew instantly there was something wrong. Here is how he described what happened next when I interviewed him in November 2009 two and a half years later.


‘…all of a sudden the train started vibrating violently, up and down, side-to-side and I immediately realised that something was very seriously wrong here. We’d been derailed and…’

‘You knew that right away?’

‘Yes. There was no feeling of impact so I knew we hadn’t hit anything. But I knew that the train was no longer running on the rails…’


Richard felt the train pitch onto its side. The lights went out. He was being thrown around the carriage and things, objects, people, were hitting him.


‘I was bouncing off the seats inside the carriage. I think the carriage rolled over at least once. It also rotated through 180° so that when it came to rest, the front of the train was pointing back in the direction it had come from. I think there were two things that immediately struck me. Firstly, how quiet it was after the violence of the impact. I couldn’t hear any sound from the carriage to begin with. But I was aware that there was a huge weight on top of me.’


Richard was trapped under two other people. All he could move was his left arm.


‘The thought of Hillsborough went through my mind then, and it just seemed it would be stupid to survive a crash and then be crushed to death because you couldn’t free yourself…I was just determined to get free and, still reaching around in the darkness trying to find something to hold onto, I finally found what a rock climber of my era would call the ‘thank God hold’ that appears when you really need it and strength comes to you in moments like that. I managed to pull myself free…I stood up and initially I just felt absolutely fine. Nothing seemed to be broken. I was clearly alive. I thought, well, this is amazing. I’ve survived! I thought, phew, I got away with that one.’


This event was the train crash that took place in Grayrigg, Cumbria on 23rd February 2007. A Virgin Pendolino tilting train travelling at 95mph came off the rails and rolled down a 50ft embankment. One person died and 20 were injured. A subsequent inquiry revealed that the crash was caused by a faulty set of points that had not been detected by the maintenance workers. Richard was not, as he first thought, uninjured. He had broken four ribs and, when he began to move, he suffered a horrendous searing pain that turned out to be a punctured lung. But it was the later psychological damage that affected him most. Richard regularly commuted to his work in Swindon and London by train. After the accident and after he had recovered from his physical injuries, he found it increasingly difficult to travel anywhere by train. A heightened awareness that the train he was on might be derailed and crash was always with him. Memories of the accident would come into his mind. His lost his normal equable composure and became tense, irritable and depressed. Although he had survived a horrific train crash, Richard, like many others who have been through major trauma, experienced significant psychological problems that affected him deeply. 




20th August, 2005. A young WPC, Janine, has arrived for work at Milton Keynes police station. Upstairs in a second floor office she and three PCs are getting ready for the briefing that starts their shift. Unlike the other officers she is not yet kitted up when suddenly gun shots are heard followed by urgent shouting coming from somewhere outside the station. This is how she took up the story when I interviewed her in February 2010 four and a half years after the incident.


‘…all I could hear was gun shots and shouting and I can remember the windows were open but the blinds were down and my colleagues flung the blinds over their heads and were peering down towards where this poor man was shouting. And I was stood there in the middle of the room asking the question, ‘What can you see? What’s going on?’ They just completely ignored me.’


The three police officers took off in different directions without Janine being any the wiser. She heard someone shouting ‘Help me, help me.’ She grabbed her radio and took off down the stairs.


‘I was just desperate to get to this guy and give him first aid. I got to this big black gate that separates the police station from the rest of the world. I couldn’t see anything, but I could still hear him shouting. So I opened the gate and I saw this poor man standing there. He was covered in blood. I will never forget the image of him putting his hands out to me in the kind of way that a child would to be picked up or cradled with his palms facing upwards and he was just repeating over and over again, ‘I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot.’ Blood was running down his face so I could tell he’d been shot in the head. He was also staggering on his feet in the way someone would if they were drunk and he looked confused. I tried to tell him to get down on the ground and he wouldn’t and so I literally had to get hold of his wrist and just kind of put all my body weight to get him to his knees.’

‘You pulled him down?’

‘I pulled him down but, as I was doing that, he collapsed on top of me and he was quite heavy, a big, big chap. I had one arm trapped underneath him just because of the way he fell. It was bizarrely intimate, you know. This guy, all his body fluids were pouring out of his head and pouring onto me, and even though he was confused, I could tell he was petrified. He even said to me ‘Am I going to die? Am I going to die?’ and I was saying to him ‘No, you’re not going to die, everything is going to be fine.’ I didn’t know if it was going to be fine or not but that seemed to be the best choice to make. I did manage to get on my radio and call for an ambulance, but it took a long time coming.’


Janine was unable to move anything but her right arm. The ARV (Armed Response Vehicle) officers arrived but instead of freeing her immediately, they carefully searched the man for possible weapons, something that upset and angered her for the man was going in and out of consciousness and might have died. In fact, although very seriously injured, the man survived. Then the paramedics attended to him and all the while Janine was trapped beneath him holding him up. She was finally freed after about 25 minutes. I asked her how she felt at that moment.


‘I think I was in shock. I was free and, initially, I felt relief because I thought, ‘Thank God for that.’ It wasn’t until I asked my colleague to use the radio to keep the control room updated and he said to me something like, ‘Wow you handled that really well,’ that I just broke down and cried.’


This highly charged incident, unusual even for police officers as shootings in this country are rare, had a marked effect in Janine’s well being. I was the Force psychologist at the time and a few days later she was referred to me for psychological help. In the aftermath of the incident, Janine suffered from an acute stress reaction with high levels of anxiety and distress. She was unable to sleep and memories of the incident were constantly replayed in her mind. She was exhausted and had been signed off work. She was also angry at being let down by her colleagues. The extreme emotions that Janine felt were the result of having been through a major trauma. Heightened emotion is a common and expected reaction especially in such a dramatic and life-threatening situation. Janine went on to make a full recovery but only after she and I had met for many months.