Unmasked: survivor of King's Cross fire goes before judge to claim damages for scars that will never heal

Click to follow
The Independent Online
He was the man in the mask, the King's Cross fire survivor so badly burnt that his face needed a shield against the world in order to heal.

Kwasi Afari Minta, now 43, endured a year in his plastic face and underwent innumerable skin grafts to repair the damage. He emerged bearing scars which will never heal.

His head is larger, carrying the fire-fused reminders of the night in November 1987 which he will never forget. He takes shirts four sizes bigger than before. His hands are clumsy blocks of welded tissue and his mouth cannot form an O. His eyelids will not close. "I am a different person now," he said yesterday as he appeared at the High Court in London to claim damages against London Regional Transport (LRT).

LRT admitted liability shortly after the London Underground tragedy in which 31 people died and dozens others were injured at King's Cross station. It has paid out more than pounds 4.5m in 110 claims of death, injury and property damage.

Bar one disputed claim, Mr Minta's is the last to be settled. The worst of the many badly-burnt survivors, he is representing himself before Mr Justice Toulson. The hearing should begin in full today.

Outside the court after yesterday's brief opening, Mr Minta, of Putney, south-west London, told how his horrific injuries have completely changed his life. No longer able to play the guitar or keyboards or sing (surgical tubes in his throat damaged that too), his career as a studio musician ended when a fireball engulfed him as he left the Piccadilly Line escalators.

Though he returned to the recording studio afterwards to finish work in progress, it was impossible. "I fell far short of being able to do it." His marriage crumbled under the strain. "When [his then wife] came and saw me, she couldn't handle it. We had to break up," he said.

He tried working as a minicab driver, but his appearance deterred passengers. Now he has re-trained in desktop publishing. With a new wife Regina, and a son, Eugene, five, he has tried to re-build his life. But it is a very different one. "I don't want any public life, I feel uncomfortable with it. I would rather stay at home and guard myself against the staring," he said. For it is the staring that makes his new existence intolerable. "People laugh, they don't know what has happened to you. My life has been unbearable. If I had my own world, it would be better - a place where I don't have to meet people." Walking down the road, he will notice children stop, then point and giggle. "I have never got used to that ... Do you vanish or what?"

Ghanaian-born Mr Minta did not know the extent of his injuries for a long time. In fact, he was so badly burnt he did not even feel the pain for two days, he said. After passers-by tore the burning clothes from his body, it was impossible to exit from King's Cross station and he had to take another Tube train to neighbouring Farringdon station to receive first aid.

He spent six months in Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, wearing the mask to keep his skin moist while his face was re-built. Only when he left the ward did he see his face in a mirror for the first time. "It was the worst thing on the earth," he said. "It has taken me almost 10 years to adjust to people. But people don't adjust to me. It is perpetual misery."