Tragedy on a perfect day out leaves a village split in two

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The Independent Online

A summer picnic overlooking the sea should have been the highlight of a perfect day.

As the four children, baby, and two adults set out on the short walk to the beauty spot close to their home in the village of Tre'r-ddol, near Aberystwyth, west Wales, there was an air of excitement.

But instead of keeping to a footpath they climbed over a stile and set up the picnic beside a railway track. What was to follow in the next 60 minutes has brought tragedy to two families and caused a deepdivision within the local community.

The village of Tre'r-ddol has split into two camps. Most of the villagers rallied around the couple, saying they had been through enough.

About 500 people signed a petition in an attempt to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to change its mind about pressing charges.

It also resulted in an extraordinary court case in which the husband and wife who were supposed to be in charge of the day trip were convicted yesterday of the manslaughter through gross negligence of two children – one of whom was their daughter – who were killed by a train travelling at 60mph as they played on the railway track. Gareth Edwards, 34, and his wife, Amanda, 35, now face a possible jail sentence.

Exactly a year ago tomorrow, the couple took Sophie George, seven, Amanda's daughter and Gareth's step-daughter, with her friend, Kymberley Allcock, eight, and the girls' brothers Matthew Allcock, who was 11 at the time, and Christopher George, then aged nine, on the outing.

The couple also took their baby, Matthew, then five months, in his pram on to the railway bank overlooking the Dyfi Estuary near Borth, Ceredigion. As LeightonDavies QC, was later to tell the jury at Swansea Crown Court: "A more dangerous place to select for a picnic site is difficult to imagine.

"They were hidden from the driver of the train because they were in a gap in the line."

The two girls spent at least 30 minutes playing alone on the track, dropping stones through gaps in the railway bridge's timber decking, which Amanda Edwards said she herself had done when she was a child.

The adults were sitting on the railway embankment facing away from the line with a view out to sea when the girls were hit by a Sprinter train bound for Aberystwyth. Amanda Edwards broke down in tears when she described to the court the moment she noticed the train and the children on the bridge.

She said: "I remember Christopher shouting, 'Mum!', and Matthew shouting from the direction of my right.

"Then I turned round and looked back and just up, and I saw this really huge train, and Matthew and Christopher were on the bridge on the left of the railway track, and Sophie and Kymberley were on the track. I shouted for them to get off the line, then the train hit them."

Mrs Edwards told the court she had no idea they were on the track. Her husband said he had not thought it necessary to warn the youngsters not to go near the line.

The two boys were just inches from the track and witnessed their sisters' deaths.

The criminal prosecution was triggered by Kymberley's father, Tony, who now has a picture of his daughter tattooed on his shoulder. He first accepted her death as a tragic accident and said no one was to blame.

But as the days went by Matthew, who was traumatised by the accident, revealed more information and told how Gareth Edwards, the deputy manager of a local supermarket, had given his permission for the children to play on the line, even promising to warn them if he saw a train coming.

Mr Allcock instructed his solicitor who collected statements and delivered the evidence to the British Transport Police, who took over the case.

The prosecution alleged that although the deaths were a tragedy for the Edwards couple, their lack of care was so bad that the case deserved to be categorised as criminal.

The couple were granted unconditional bail yesterday pending sentence.