Train driver traumatised by death on tracks fights loss of compensation
Nik Douglas is the final driver to receive financial help for depression after a suicide on his line
Emily Dugan is Social Affais Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Emily is on sabbatical until March 2015
Monday 05 May 2014
It was around midday on 31 March 2012 that Nik Douglas’s life changed forever. The 37-year-old train driver was travelling through Northallerton station on the way to Newcastle when he saw a man in his sixties standing alone on the platform.
He thought nothing of the lone figure, turning instead to check the opposite platform. By the time Mr Douglas looked back again, the man was crouching on the tracks in front of his train.
“I remember screaming just before the impact,” Mr Douglas recalls, his face blanching. “I was going at 125 miles an hour because the station wasn’t one we stopped at.”
He slammed on the emergency brake and – in a panic – stamped on the floor beneath his feet, as if trying to brake a car. “I was trying to make it stop quicker, but there was nothing I could do.”
For the next six months he was off work with post-traumatic stress. “When I was on my own I’d burst into tears for no reason, I found sleep hard and I’d have flashbacks during the night and day,” he says. “I could be in a room full of people with a really good party atmosphere but feel alone, isolated. That’s one of the biggest things I remember, feeling alone.”
It has taken two rounds of counselling and ongoing treatment with antidepressants to restore him to some sort of emotional stability. “It changed my life instantly from who I was to what I have become. My wife found it really hard seeing how I’ve changed. Some people aren’t affected, but two years after it happened I’m still not the same person.”
But because of a recent change in the law, Mr Douglas could be the last person in the country to receive compensation for such trauma.
Train drivers can no longer claim compensation for physical and mental injuries in the course of their work, after changes were made to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (Cica) in 2012. Mr Douglas has just received £4,400 in Cica compensation, as his incident pre-dates the change. “When I did get the payment I thought all that money will go to my wife and kids for everything that they’ve been put through.”
There were 304 deaths on the tracks caused by trespass and suicide last year, slightly up from 297 in 2012. None of the drivers in those incidents will now be eligible for compensation and Mr Douglas is campaigning for the scheme to be reinstated.
“Two of my friends are off work at the minute because of [a death]. It happened to one of my good friends on the Saturday just gone. He was really shaken, it was his second one. Someone jumped off at a station in Duffield near Derby right in front of him. They had to find a doctor on the train because his heart was going so hard he said it felt like it was going to explode.
“The Government has obviously decided that it’s just part and parcel of the job. But I don’t understand why they’d think that because you shouldn’t be expected to come to work and have to deal with this. That compensation was a slight glimmer of something positive that could come out of the situation because there’s very little positive that comes out of anything like that.”
Nick Whitehead at the train drivers’ union, Aslef, said: “Changes to Cica mean drivers can no longer get the compensation they should be entitled to. We urge the Government to think again.”
Mr Douglas tried to go back to work three months after his collision, but soon realised he wasn’t ready. “When I drove past the station where it happened I felt physically sick. I asked my boss to drive the rest of the way back to Newcastle.”
Weeks after returning to work for a second time, he was traumatised by a near miss. “A girl walked off one platform, crossed the tracks in front of me and at the last minute jumped up on to the other platform. I thought I must’ve hit her, But my boss phoned later and said there was CCTV footage from the station of the girl just walking calmly away.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We sympathise with anyone who becomes a victim of crime. Our reforms to the criminal injuries compensation scheme mean taxpayers’ money is focused on supporting victims of the most violent offences.”
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