The real story behind the 'drunk director' asleep on the track

The headlines portrayed him as a joke. The truth is not so funny
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The Independent Online

The story of the company director who fell drunkenly asleep on a railway line seemed at first glance to be utterly hilarious, especially in the midst of office party season. To the tales of what old George in accounts did after sinking nine whiskies could be added that of Kevin Craswell.

And so, the coverage beside the now-famous picture of a besuited figure slumped across the rails reached no further than the handiest stereotype. "Boss falls asleep on railway after vodka binge at rush hour" read one headline; others went for a pun: "Court fines railway sleeper".

But far from being a "boss" on a Christmas bender, Kevin Craswell was a 48-year-old unemployed man, reduced to living with his elderly parents on £80 a week benefits, who in his despair last March, drank himself into a potentially fatal stupor.

Until five years ago, he was a successful company director with a wife and child. As Graham Brooker, managing director of Wilson Electric, a company in which the Craswell family is still involved, said: "This was a very nice, very kind and intelligent person who just took the wrong road. It is one of those sad tragedies."

That road was drink. In court last month -- he was charged with lying on a railway track - one of his solicitors, Philip Longes, said: "He's lost his family, his home, his job and his self-esteem. He has sunk to the bottom."

The scale of his problem with alcohol can be measured in the wretched state he was in last March. He had consumed so much vodka that by 3pm he had clambered on to the track near Epsom in Surrey. Was he so drunk that he didn't know where he was or the danger he was in? Or was he about to do what 201 people did last year and commit suicide under a train? We shall never know, for Mr Craswell has no memory of that afternoon.

Travellers waiting at the station saw him come into view, crawling along the track. He then passed out, with his feet a mere 12 inches from the live rail. Nothing, initially, could wake him. Not the shouts from the platform, a train passing within feet of him, or the clatter of a police helicopter hovering above as it monitored the incident and took the now famous pictures of a comatose Mr Craswell, a movement away from 750 volts.

The current was turned off, trains held up for 20 minutes, and rescuers tried torouse him. When they succeeded, Mr Craswell was found to have drunk so much that he was taken to hospital and treated for hypothermia. Once sober, he could recall nothing.

But, say his lawyers, the experience had shocked him into action. Graham Guerin told Redhill magistrates: "He has taken steps to help himself including referring himself to Respond [a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre] on a day programme and to see a counsellor." His lawyer described him as a "recovering" alcoholic, a description that speaks of hope for a man who has been through a personal hell. Neighbours in the smart tree-lined road in Ashtead where Mr Craswell lives said that he had now begun to turn his life around.

Richard Kramer, director of policy at the social care charity Turning Point said: "There are three million people dependent on alcohol in the UK, and yet there is a real shortage of treatment services, and, unlike illegal drugs, alcohol abuse is an issue that cuts across all social classes."

"Somebody with a mental health problem may self-medicate with alcohol. But alcohol problems may in turn lead to depression, anxiety and other mental health problems."

Additional reporting by Lauren Veevers

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