Train horns sound as service marks 20th anniversary of Selby rail crash

Dave Higgens, PA

Train horns were sounded at the scene of the Selby rail crash as a service took place to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy which claimed the lives of 10 men.

Sunday’s ceremony at the small memorial garden in the village of Great Heck, North Yorkshire, was broadcast online due to Covid restrictions, along with a memorial event at Newcastle station.

More than 350 people affected by the crash and other well-wishers watched virtually as an LNER passenger service slowed and sounded its horn along with a Freightliner locomotive named in memory Steve Dunn – the driver of one of the trains which collided on February 28 2001.

Mr Dunn was one of four railway workers and six passengers who died when an InterCity passenger service and a fully-laden coal train collided at a closing speed of more than 140mph.

A memorial plaque in the Great Heck Rail Disaster Memorial Garden near Selby in North Yorkshire
A memorial plaque in the Great Heck Rail Disaster Memorial Garden near Selby in North Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

His widow Mary Dunn reminded those watching that the crash was caused when a Land Rover, driven by Gary Hart, careered off the nearby M62 motorway after he had little sleep the night before.

In an online contribution, she told the memorial event: “Twenty years ago this morning an individual wrecked and took the lives of many people. That is what we’re remembering today – the ten lost men whose lives ended prematurely and whose futures were stolen.”

Mrs Dunn said she was sad that attitudes to driving while tired had not changed in the last 20 years.

She said: “The events which unfolded at Great Heck will not, cannot and should not be forgotten.”

Donald Heath, a former British Rail project director, recalled being on the passenger train that morning.

He said: “I’d like to thank all those who rallied round that day.

“I have to say how lucky I was.”

The accident claimed the lives of John Weddle, the GNER driver; Mr Dunn, the Freightliner driver, and eight other men – Steve Baldwin, Alan Ensor, Raymond Robson, Paul Taylor, Clive Vidgen, Barry Needham, Robert Shakespeare and Christopher Terry.

Scene of the Selby crash 20 years ago
Scene of the Selby crash 20 years ago (Phil Noble/PA)

The tragedy happened after the GNER Newcastle to London passenger service derailed as it struck Hart’s Land Rover and was then hit by the Freightliner train carrying 1,600 tonnes of coal coming the other way, with catastrophic results.

Hart could not move his vehicle off the tracks and was calling the emergency services when the crash happened.

He denied falling asleep at the wheel but a jury found him guilty of 10 charges of causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to five years in jail, serving around half that time.

Prayers were said at the Great Heck memorial garden by the Reverend Eleanor Robertshaw, the team rector of Great Snaith, before wreaths were laid and a silence was observed.

Service takes place at the Great Heck Rail Disaster Memorial Garden near Selby in North Yorkshire
Service takes place at the Great Heck Rail Disaster Memorial Garden near Selby in North Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

Relatives of some of the those who died and representatives of the companies involved also laid wreaths on the platform at Newcastle station before a number of those affected by the tragedy shared thoughts online.

A service was broadcast online on Sunday afternoon from Selby Abbey during which ten candles were lit in turn as the names of those who died were read.

The candles were lit by former British Transport Police superintendent Tony Thompson, who attended the scene in 2001,

Mr Thompson said during the service: “Recounting how a vehicle and trailer left a road, careered down an embankment and how that caused the derailment and collision of two trains – incredible and unprecedented as those events were – does not begin to describe what the scene was like.

“Many millions of people around the world saw the pictures of that devastation, many hundreds saw it for themselves, as they attended the scene to help the injured, disentangle the wreckage, recover the dead and understand what had happened.

“For the emergency services and others, such as those charged with dealing with and identifying the deceased, treating the injured and reinstating the infrastructure, as well as the road and rail engineers and media who report on and attempt to explain the events, such scenes are never routine.

“The professionalism of those who responded to the tragedy has been rightly praised and has not been forgotten today, 20 years on.”

Mr Thompson said: “Being professional does not mean, however, that you do not feel the human tragedy that has struck those involved.”