Tears as crash passengers are laid to rest

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ONE CANNOT be sure, but Bob Cotton would almost certainly have approved. There had been speeches from friends, tributes from colleagues and hymns sung with vigour by people from the town he made his home. And after all of that, when all the prayers had been said, his coffin was slowly carried from the church to the tune associated with his beloved football team, West Ham United.

ONE CANNOT be sure, but Bob Cotton would almost certainly have approved. There had been speeches from friends, tributes from colleagues and hymns sung with vigour by people from the town he made his home. And after all of that, when all the prayers had been said, his coffin was slowly carried from the church to the tune associated with his beloved football team, West Ham United.

"The family had requested that we play 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles' so that is what we did," said the Rev John Hunnisett, the Rector of Dursley, who took Mr Cotton's funeral service yesterday. "It was a strange request but that is what they asked for and that is what they got."

Mr Cotton, 41, the caretaker at a comprehensive school, was one of three victims of the Paddington rail disaster whose funerals were held yesterday. A service for Simon Wood, a charity worker and father of two young children took place at his local church in Liss, Hampshire.

Meanwhile at Oxford crematorium, Peter Mandelson, newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and one of his predecessors, Sir Patrick Mayhew, were among mourners at the cremation of Tony Beeton, a senior civil servant in the Northern Ireland office who helped draw up last year's Good Friday Agreement.

In Dursley, Gloucestershire, Mr Cotton's funeral service was attended by scores of pupils from Rednock School, where he had worked for 14 years. Everyone had said he was popular with the pupils though no one had expected so many would come.

In the end they easily outnumbered the adults. Teenage girls in their school uniforms hung on to each other's arms, a pair of sixth formers wandered into the church with bags slung over baggy T shirts and young boys walked in together, their navy and sky blue ties skewed.

From the moment the students started arriving at the parish church of St James the Great, it was clear the seats inside for 450 were never going to be enough. Instead, many took up places in the churchyard, heads bowed as they listened to the service over loudspeakers. Many were in tears, others hugged each other.

They stood quietly, listening to a series of the tributes to the man known to more than one generation of pupils.

The school's head teacher, John Pritchard, whose daughter was a bridesmaid at the caretaker's wedding five years ago, read from the New Testament.

There was a reading too from Geoffrey Wheeler, the Mayor of Dursley and someone who knew Mr Cotton through his long involvement in local politics, both on the town council and on the Stroud District Council, where he was a member of the Labour group. Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public workers union Unison, and a friend of Mr Cotton, gave the address.

When Mr Cotton was killed last week he had been on union business and was travelling in the first-class carriage at the front of the train. Mr Bickerstaffe said: "First-class was not good enough for Bob, he was in a class of his own."

The service ­ followed by a private cremation ­ also included a prayer written by the Dean of Gloucester, the Very Rev Nick Bury, when he heard of the train crash. "Be near us in our loss," it said.

And then it was time to fulfil the request of Mr Cotton's family. The organist Nigel Davies had been practising all week, but as the coffin was carried from the church the notes jarred and clamoured as he performed the Upton Park anthem. Afterwards Mr Cotton's friends were adamant: "Bob would have absolutely loved it."

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