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

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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee