Rise in rail suicides a concern for coroner

The level crossing at Wooden Gate.
The level crossing at Wooden Gate.

A coroner has expressed concern at the worrying increase in railway fatalities in north Northumberland.

Tony Brown, senior coroner for north Northumberland, said he was encouraged that various agencies are taking steps to tackle the problem.

He was speaking at an inquest into the death of Christopher Gribbin who was hit by a train near Warkworth in October 2014.

Mr Brown sought and received assurances from Northumberland’s crisis team that the rise in rail suicides was not linked to pressure on mental health services.

He said: “Without any specialist knowledge of the situation, I am aware of wider concerns in mental health hospitals about pressure on spaces.

“I have heard expert opinion that there is no correlation between the perceived increase in rail deaths and a reduction in hospital spaces.

“I remain concerned about the number of rail deaths but am encouraged that Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, British Transport Police and other organisations are trying to minimise or reduce the number of deaths.”

Efforts are being made to address the problem. The Samaritans, supported by Network Rail and the wider rail industry, has launched a We Listen campaign. Posters in railway stations are raising awareness of the issue.

Miss Wells, of Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, said: “The trust is working closely with the British Transport Police, Network Rail local councils and other partners on this.”

The inquest heard that Mr Gribbin, 40, from Amble, was killed near the Wooden Gate crossing, hours after being visited by the crisis team.

He had a history of mental illness, had expressed suicidal ideations and suffered from anxiety and depression.

His family raised concerns that he was assessed as being suitable for home treatment instead of as a hospital inpatient.

His mum, Patricia, said: “I find it hard to understand how someone who had such psychotic episodes could be considered to be rational.”

But Dr Hermarette Van Den Bergh, the consultant psychiatrist who assessed him, said: “We made our decision based upon what we believed was in the best interests of Christopher, clinically.”