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Moorgate…the unresolved tragedy

Kemp said: “One of the great problems [for the rescue teams] was the intense heat down there. It must have been 120 degrees. It was like opening the door of an oven.”

Along with the money to buy his daughter’s first car, Newson’s bag contained the working timetable and other notices, his copy of the Rule Book, and two notebooks (one containing notes on dealing with defects and train failures) with plastic covers to protect them from wear - an action that one of the investigators of the incident thought “underlined the fact that Motorman Newson conducted himself in a most conscientious manner in respect of his job on the railway”.

Newson was described at the inquest as a quiet man with orderly habits. Not a sickly man, nor a daydreamer, not a runner of red lights when driving a car, or someone known to drink excessively. His wife and a close friend (a bus inspector for London Transport) said that he was not depressed, and that he loved his job.

He had been passed as medically fit, and had only two days of sickness absence noted on his staff record. The only other record was on June 21 1974, when Newson went to the aid of a woman who was being annoyed by another passenger. He was assaulted by the passenger and suffered a cut on his eye and bruising to his cheek.

In the inquest that followed Moorgate, everyone tried to understand the events leading up to the final collision. The 1938 Tube Stock involved was carefully inspected for all possible defects, but all the brakes and traction equipment were found to be in working order. They had simply not been used.

X-rays taken of Newson’s hands and forearms confirmed the eyewitness statements that he had not raised his hands before impact, even though it is a natural human instinct to protect your face.

Newson had not been electrocuted. The cause of his death was “shock from multiple injuries” on what otherwise appeared to be a “perfectly healthy man”. The medical examiner found no dissolved drug or poison matter, nothing to suggest a seizure or brain disease of any kind, and no indication of a heavy drinking habit.

However, another examiner concluded that the 80mg per 100ml of alcohol in Newson’s blood indicated that he had been drinking on the morning of his death.

This became the subject of much disagreement between the examiners. Some felt that the level was high enough to make a person more susceptible to a lapse in concentration, while others did not. In particular, one examiner said that the level of alcohol might have been caused by the growth of micro-organisms and fungi in a decomposing body (made more prevalent from four days in a high-temperature environment).

The colleague with whom Newson had shared milk confirmed that it did not taste of alcohol. And none of the people who had been in contact with Newson that morning were suspicious of his behaviour.

The suggestion was made that Newson had been daydreaming, perhaps even thinking about the car he was going to buy his daughter. But the consensus was that the sudden change in environment from tunnel to station - and the difference in noise level and lighting - should have been sufficient to bring a daydreaming man round from a lapse in concentration.

Several medical conditions were suggested, including those akin to ‘locked-in’ syndrome whereby the individual is aware of his surroundings but suffers from total paralysis. However, there was no evidence to support this.

Whatever was happening to him, it was a condition that allowed him to retain balance and muscle tone throughout. Newson took no positive action of any kind, and it was this that the inquest determined was “the most notable feature about this sequence of events”.

The inquest deemed that the incident was accidental.

We must be thankful that 40 years on, Moorgate still represents the highest peacetime loss of life on the Underground in a single incident. But it will always be remembered for the questions that remain unanswered.

Was Newson the kind of man who would have wilfully taken so many lives in order to take his own? Had he been drinking that morning, and was it enough for him to lose concentration to such an extent? Was he victim to an unexplained medical condition?

The survivors of the crash… the families of the victims… the railway will never know. It is a sobering reminder that advances in technology, no matter how significant, cannot answer every question. We can legislate for how the railway reacts to human error and how it prevents an accident, but we cannot legislate for the human mind.

  • This feature was published in RAIL 769 on March 4 2015

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  • DJMAC - 16/01/2016 14:46

    Yes I can vagally remember this & still get flashbacks about it, The most annoying thing about this is that it's 41 years ago & what actually has been done about it, Not a great deal by the looks of thing's, Another job been swept under the carpet. The General Public have a right to know, They've asked Questions, It's Time that they got answers, & now, Not in 2051 when the case will cease.I personally would like to thank R.Jones & B.Goodfellow for their great efforts to what they've done Well Done Lads.

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    • PAUL LAWLOR - 17/03/2017 16:15

      What DJMac is referring to when he says "Not in 2051 when the case will cease" is the Coroner's Inquest Witness Statements-a 76 year ruling on these documents was placed in 1975 after the Inquest into the collision at Moorgate. However,the Inquest Transcripts which are over 500 pages long are available to view at the London Metropolitan Archives the address is; 40 NORTHAMPTON RD,CLERKENWELL,LONDON EC1M 6BY Nearest BR/Tube Station-Farringdon -note;on the Tube it is on the Circle,Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. I agree with DJMac that we should get answers -there needs to be a new senior judge led public inquiry into this disaster-this was no accident -this was a disaster waiting to happen, LT had been running the network on a reactive basis since WW2 and had persistently decided against installing trip mechanisms on the whole network-they were only installed after the Moorgate collision,had they been installed a few years before then the lives of the 43 people lost on the 28th February 1975 would have been saved. There had been another 7 serious collisions before Moorgate which did involve loss of life and injuries but serious nonetheless-the majority of those collisions 1938 Tube Stock units,the one involved in the collision at Moorgate had been sent to Drayton Park from Neasden with brake and motor defects and a defective dead mans handle and was due to be taken back to Neasden to be scrapped -instead it was scrapped in service at Moorgate. In other words,the cause of the collision was mechanical failure on a train that should not have been on a railway track in the first place -LT & HMRI covered up the cause to blame a wholly innocent train driver-we need a new judge led public inquiry where ALL the evidence should be made available-inc. the Coroners Inquest Witness Statements -that 76 year ruling should be overturned and the evidence presented to a new judge led public inquiry. I remember the Moorgate collision well, watching it on BBC & ITN news coverage of it in the part of the West Country I am from, I was on half term holidays from school at the time and was 8 years old thinking "what the hell happened here"-I never did believe the driver was to blame and that mechanical failure on the train was the cause of the collision- I hope there is a new public inquiry as the victims families never got justice.

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  • Jonathan Porter - 26/03/2016 08:30

    A theory never explored was that Newson had forgotten the direction in which he was travelling (from the driver's point of view the three intermediate stations would look much the same northbound or southbound). If Newson was wrongly expecting the next station to be Drayton Park which was on the surface, it's non-appearance might have utterly confused him and caused him to respond in disbelief by accelerating the train in a futile attempt to make the expected daylight of Drayton Park to appear.

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  • Desmond Whittle - 11/05/2016 23:15

    Could Newson have been dead before the train entered thetion,maybe a stroke ?

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  • bert - 27/07/2016 08:27

    Thirty-five years after Britain's worst Tube crash one victim's son asks: Did a suicidal driver kill 42 innocent passengers? By LAURENCE MARKS UPDATED: 20:18 +11:00, 5 January 2010 24 View comments On the morning of Friday, February 28, 1975, I was sent to cover a terrible train crash at Moorgate Underground station. A Sunday Times reporter, it was only later in the day that I discovered that my 68-year-old father might be a passenger. That evening I made a call, repeated every hour, to the emergency switchboard set up by the police for relatives of those trapped in the crash. Devastation: Emergency workers attend the aftermath of the crash in 1975 Devastation: Emergency workers attend the aftermath of the crash in 1975 Every call ended with the same monotone: 'No, sorry. No Bernard Marks on our lists. No, he hasn't been admitted to any of the hospitals. If we get any news, we will call you straight away.' I didn't sleep that night. And my dad didn't come home. I was turning over in my mind where he might be, knowing in my heart that my dad, a creature of habit, had not lost his memory and was not wandering the streets of London having been concussed. No, I just felt he was dead. Bernard Marks died in the Moorgate train crash of 1975. His son Laurence tells of his attempt to find out what happened on that fateful day Loss: Bernard Marks died in the Moorgate train crash of 1975. His son Laurence tells of his attempt to find out what happened on that fateful day At 11am the next day, the doorbell rang. A solemn-looking police constable stood there and asked if he might come in. And then he asked me to sit down. Before he had even spoken a word, a coldness ran through me as though someone were dripping ice droplets through my blood stream. He removed a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read. 'Your father, Bernard Marks, was removed from the wreckage of the train at Moorgate station at 04.30 this morning. I am terribly sorry to tell you he is dead.' I sat in a state of shock. As he laid his hand on my shoulder, he, too, looked grief-stricken as he told me I was the third person he had broken bad news to that morning. Two other families had still to learn the fate of their nearest and dearest from him. The irony that my dad had survived the whole of World War II as an East End copper, and during the Blitz had three times missed death by seconds, did not escape me. Not now that he had been killed on what is generally accepted to be the world's safest form of transport: the London Underground. I returned to work six days later, to be asked to spend the next year writing what would be my paper's definitive account of the Moorgate Train Disaster. The facts were these: During the busiest hour of the busiest day of the week, the Northern Line train 272 from Drayton Park to Moorgate was running late. On this five-stop line, the train had stopped quite properly at Highbury and Islington, Essex Road and Old Street. Now it was making the one-minute journey from Old Street to Moorgate. 'Your father, Bernard Marks, was removed from the wreckage of the train at Moorgate station at 04.30 this morning. I am terribly sorry to tell you he is dead' Driver Leslie Newson should have approached the crossover points, leading to Platform Nine, at around 15mph, but the train was travelling at around 35mph - and it seemed to be accelerating. Two railwaymen waiting on Platform Nine had time to recognise Leslie Newson, sitting bolt upright in his cabin. With his cap on his head, his uniform neat as ever, and his hands on the controls, he was staring straight ahead. 'He made no attempt to move as we flung ourselves against the platform wall, instinctively throwing up our arms to protect our heads,' one of the men said later. From my interviews with passengers who survived the disaster, they, too, were greatly alarmed, with many bracing themselves for the impact they knew was only seconds away. Train 272 rushed past the signal at the end of the platform, hit the 15-yard sand drag and shattered the hydraulic buffer. It then smashed into the 5ft thick concrete wall at the end of the tunnel. The driver had not even raised his hands to shield his face. Injured passengers are pictured waiting in an ambulance before being taken to hospital after the crash Trauma: Injured passengers wait in an ambulance before being taken to hospital after the crash On impact, the first coach doubled into a 'V' as the driver's cabin rose and buried itself in the concrete roof of the 16ft-high tunnel. The second coach - where my father was - drove itself under the end of the first, crushing it further before being crumpled itself, down into a space of barely 3ft at the front. And then the third coach hit its back and rose up over it to hit the first. The front three coaches - 156ft of metal - were compressed in a 60ft dead- end tunnel. The three back coaches were relatively undamaged. Forty-one people were dead. Eighty-two were injured, some very seriously. Two were to die later. I needed to know how my father had died - and whether he had suffered As a journalist, my brief was to discover why the accident had happened and whether it could have been avoided. But on a personal level, I needed to know how my father had died - and whether he had suffered. I was asking these questions both on my own behalf - and on behalf of every relative who was bereaved. Four weeks after the accident, having digested all the available news, my first step was to discover who had been involved. This I did from City of London Coroner Dr David Paul, who 'encouraged' me to steal the transcript of the inquest from his safe. I'd never considered myself a safe-breaker, but I did take the 900-page document, rushed back to my office to have it photocopied - and had it back in the coroner's safe before he returned from his lunch appointment. As well as being the verbatim transcript, the document contained the names and addresses of all those killed, along with pathologists' reports as to the causes of death. Naturally, I turned first to the report on my father. The cause of death was cited as 'cerebral contusion', which meant my dad had died quickly from a single blow to the brain - and had not lingered in pain. I felt greatly reassured. After all, I'd seen the condition of the train, so this was a source of enormous relief. Pictured: The aftermath of the Moorgate train crash Pictured: The aftermath of the Moorgate train crash in 1975 Then Keith Simpson, Professor Emeritus of Forensic Medicine, who had conducted the post mortem examination on the driver, agreed to see me. He explained both what he had looked for and what he had found. First, he'd wanted to rule out the possibility of electrical injury, which would have proved an instant explanation for what had happened. But there had been no mark or electrical burn on the body that might have prevented the driver, Leslie Newson, from controlling the speed of the train. Nor had Prof Simpson found any sign, such as a bitten tongue, to suggest Newson had suffered an epileptic fit, nor anything to indicate a heart attack. The lack of obvious medical causes for the crash fascinated doctors, and a race soon emerged between neurologists and psychiatrists as to who could publish their respective theories the fastest. Within a month I'd established, thanks to London Transport engineers, that there had been no mechanical failure of the train, nor any signal failure. I couldn't help myself: the deeper I delved, the more curious I became - especially when no answers were forthcoming. And so I returned to Dr Paul, the Coroner. At the inquest, and in summing up for the jury, he indicated possible verdicts of manslaughter, misadventure, accidental death, suicide - or an open verdict if the jury felt there was not enough evidence for a definitive conclusion. When I questioned Dr Paul on the issue of suicide, he said: 'A suicide verdict would imply Newson had deliberately set out to kill all the passengers on the train.' 'Would he have done?' 'You tell me,' said Dr Paul. What on earth was the driver doing? What was he thinking? Then after a long pause: 'But Laurence, that is the path you should follow. It is my personal belief that the driver committed suicide.' He then turned to a page in his inquest papers and pointed out to me the evidence of the train's guard, Bob Harris, who had been at the back of the train. Dr Paul had asked Harris whether he remembered any other occasion when a train driven by Mr Newson had overshot the platform. Harris replied that he did. When Dr Paul asked when that was, Harris replied: 'It was either the Monday or Tuesday before the crash.' My heart beat fast. This seemed extraordinary. What on earth was the driver doing? What was he thinking? That particular overshoot in an open tunnel was the distance of an entire carriage. Dr Paul emphasised the significance of that overshoot - given how meticulous and pedantic Newson was. He was a man who had gone by the rulebook (indeed, an open rulebook was found in the driver's cab), which made it quite clear to me that this had been no accident. Emergency services help the injured outside Moorgate station after the crash Injured: Emergency services attend to the wounded outside Moorgate tube station following the crash I was eager to clear up the bizarre story that was circulating in the Press that Newson may have been drunk and found out where the story came from. When Dr Anne Robinson, a leading toxicologist, had given evidence at the inquest, her conclusions caused quite a sensation since they appeared to indicate Newson was drunk while driving his train. But Dr Robinson was quick to dispel this assumption. 'I didn't say that,' she protested. 'What I said was that his alcohol content was twice that of the other eight samples I took at the same time - bodies that had been under the same conditions. I have taken into account the post-mortem alcohol changes - and still his contents are almost double.' 'And that means what?' I asked. 'Well,' said Dr Robinson, 'in my opinion he had taken a drink of alcohol the morning of the crash.' 'But why would he have done that? He was a non-drinker?' 'So I have heard, but I think whatever he did have to drink - and it must have been something without odour, like Bacardi or vodka, for the pathologist could not smell anything on Mr Newson's breath - it was for Dutch courage. Perhaps he knew what he was going to do - and wanted to steady his nerve.' As I returned to the office that afternoon, suicide was seeming increasingly likely - it was all stacking up . . . 'In my opinion the driver, Leslie Newson, had taken a drink of alcohol the morning of the crash' But it's something that can't be proven - unless the suicide cares to leave us a note. So all I could do was present my evidence - and let the world make up its own mind. Nine months on, I had spoken to everyone involved in the story and was convinced I was dealing with perhaps the most bizarre disaster on record. I'd even talked to the world's leading suicidologist, Dr Bruce Danto, who agreed with my theories. The one person I hadn't spoken to, though, was Helen Newson, the driver's widow, who knew more about Leslie Newson than anyone. It was imperative I spoke to her. Her legal advisers knew I was interviewing everyone connected with the crash and strongly recommended she didn't talk to me for fear of compromising a compensation claim that she was planning. And so I wrote her a letter explaining who I was, what I was doing - and how my father was killed in the second carriage. I drove to her South-East London council flat and knocked on the door. No reply. I dropped my letter through the door and turned, preparing to drive off. Then I noticed a Ford Escort pull up. Mrs Newson and her two daughters got out. I walked over and told her who I was. She said she didn't want to talk about it - and started walking towards her flat. As she did, I noticed that tears were running down her face. Rescue teams are pictured at the scene of the crash Tragedy: Rescue teams are pictured searching through the wreckage at the scene of the crash I went back to my car - but something told me to wait. Half an hour later, Leslie Newson's daughter came down and said: 'Laurence Marks, we'd heard what you are doing - but we didn't know your father was killed on the train.' She got into the car and explained that her mother simply could not face the ordeal of going over the final days of her husband's life. I explained how much this investigation meant to me - and that without her mother's contribution it would be only half completed. And then she began sobbing. 'My dad would never have killed himself. He was a happy man.' 'Please,' I begged. I was taken upstairs. At last, I stood face-to-face with Mrs Newson - and I'd never been so scared. I'd met all the top professionals in this story without any qualms - and yet here I was, shaking in front of this poor woman, feeling exactly the same as I did the moment I discovered my father was dead. Mrs Newson was calm and sympathetic - in marked contrast to me, the journalist, who was trembling and near to tears. Gently, we went through the events of the crash. She told me she had been to the building society the day before the crash, at her husband's request, to withdraw £300 with which he would buy their younger daughter a car. I asked her why he had taken the money to work with him on the day of the crash. She did not know. But she did admit he had been a lonely man. A man without friends. The hardest question I had to ask was about her husband's drinking habits. She stated quite categorically that the only time he took a drink (brown ale) was on high days and holidays. Mrs Newson was calm and sympathetic - in marked contrast to me, the journalist, who was trembling and near to tears I asked whether she kept vodka or Bacardi in the drinks cabinet that was in the corner of the room. She opened it for me - and there stood a bottle of Bacardi. I asked whether it was possible that her husband had taken a drink on the Friday morning of the crash, and she admitted that the level in the Bacardi bottle could have gone down. She then asked me her one and only question - the one I'd feared she would ask. 'Why do you think it happened?' she asked, searchingly. I had to tell her the truth. 'But my Les would never have committed suicide!' 'You knew him better than I,' I conceded. 'I can only work from ten months of evidence. And that evidence points quite categorically to driver error.' We said goodbye. And I never saw her again. In the 35 years since the crash, whenever a television or radio programme deals with the subject, I am asked why Leslie Newson never stopped his train? I answer: 'He could have.' When I had eliminated myriad medical reasons why he might not have been able to, and had taken into account the microscopically detailed engineering reports, as well as every witness's statement, there was no other conclusion - except for the fact that Leslie Newson didn't want to stop the train. I don't know why. No one ever will. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1240625/Thirty-years-Britains-worst-Tube-crash-victims-son-asks-Did-suicidal-driver-kill-42-innocent-passengers.html#ixzz4FakAR7OC Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

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    • PAUL LAWLOR - 14/03/2017 15:30

      This was a reply to that Mail Online article: If Mr.Marks cares to contact me I can appraise him of the correct facts, I was the Fire Brigade officer in charge of rescue. I also reached Mr Newson first . he had not been drinking, I can confirm that he had the throttle closed and in his right hand as if holding the dead man's handle in the brake down position. I had already been trained in LT train use. as a Emergency tender OIC. Mr Newson did not commit suicide and this is also the opinion of other experts in LT and the Police whom I liaised with in later years. the family of Mr. Newson can rest assured the above is correct which may be of some comfort to them . I have tried to contact the family of Mr.Newson on previous occasions to no success. My contacts in LT who personally knew Mr Newson have also confirmed the above he was well acquainted with the Station and no effort on his part could slow the train as he followed the correct procedure. I was there for the period from one hour after the collision until the fourth day as Officer in Charge of Blue Watch rescue – Eddie Carrera, Norwich, 05/1/2010

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      • PAUL LAWLOR - 27/03/2017 15:40

        Ahd here is a letter published in the Islington Tribune 2nd March 2012: The real crash train Published: 02 March 2012 • THE letter about the 1975 Moorgate Tube train crash was most interesting (Moorgate disaster driver a target of vicious campaign, February 24). A contemporary of motorman Newson at the time of the accident, I was a trainman on the Bakerloo line, and the Northern line shared our rolling stock. Over the last few years, I have used my working knowledge and experience to scrutinise available evidence concerning the crash, mainly from the transcripts of the inquest and the government railway accident report into the cause of the Moorgate crash. That report should have come with the caveat E&OE, errors and omissions excepted. Evidence suggests to me that the crash train was not the one claimed to have been prepared for service and driven by Newson on several trips without complaint, and that the first driving trip south in it was undertaken by another motorman who found the brakes and other equipment to be in good order. It appears the crash train was acquired by Newson in an unofficial crew changeover at Old Street station. Newson drove it to Drayton Park for the first time that morning, and then south to Moorgate whereupon it crashed. It appears the actual crash train had been sent to Drayton Park depot, from Neasden depot, with brake and motor defects. It was awaiting return to Neasden, where it was due to be scrapped. Instead, it was scrapped in service at Moorgate. Anthony Bright Penarth,Wales.

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