Suicide, maybe. Naked, no

Drysdale's elderly parents were driven from their home in Birmingham last week by press harassment
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The Independent Online

Naked, gay chef kills seven in rail crash! So we were asked to believe last week as investigators tried to establish the sequence of events that led to the horrific derailment in Berkshire eight days ago. According to newspaper accounts, Brian Drysdale finished work, drove straight to an unmanned level crossing, stripped naked, made calls on his mobile phone, screamed at an off-duty police officer who begged him to move and callously caused the deaths of seven strangers.

Naked, gay chef kills seven in rail crash! So we were asked to believe last week as investigators tried to establish the sequence of events that led to the horrific derailment in Berkshire eight days ago. According to newspaper accounts, Brian Drysdale finished work, drove straight to an unmanned level crossing, stripped naked, made calls on his mobile phone, screamed at an off-duty police officer who begged him to move and callously caused the deaths of seven strangers.

The Daily Mail talked about Drysdale's "grim determination" to cause the disaster and said police were "examining a mobile phone found close to the wrecked car, which was used to make several calls in the moments before Saturday's tragedy".

The Sun described Drysdale's "sleazy life", which was said to have "spiralled into debt" as he tried to fund a "drugs habit" and "trawled bars for gay sex".

Journalists, in other words, have decided the cause of the crash at a time when the police still have an "open mind", as the second in command of the investigation told me on Friday.

Perhaps Drysdale did kill himself, for reasons as yet unknown. But speculation has been presented as fact, building a case that he was a "weirdo" gay loner who deliberately planned his death to kill other people; a Sun columnist accused him of "cold-blooded mass murder", while other papers agonised over the rights and wrongs of suicide. To be fair, it was the police who first floated the idea that the crash had been caused by a suicidal car driver but from there it took off - fuelled, according to Detective Chief Inspector Michael Southerton of British Transport Police, by the fact that hundreds of people went to the crash site. "People turn up and go away," he said. "They've got a bit of a story to tell. They go into refreshment houses and embellish what they actually saw."

Whatever the explanation, a pretty melodramatic scenario appeared in The Sun, which claimed that Drysdale parked on the track, "sat NAKED and made a call on his mobile - as a hero cop begged him to move". It claimed that the chef was on the phone when the train ploughed into his car and "the person Drysdale was speaking to is being interviewed". It found a mystery witness who saw the whole incident, alleging that Drysdale, inside his locked car, shouted to the off-duty policeman that he wanted to die.

There is one little problem, however, which is that much of what has been written in the past week is, to use a technical term, complete cobblers. According to Southerton, the police do not yet know how long the car was on the level crossing. As for The Sun's allegation that Drysdale shouted that he wanted to die, Southerton dismissed it as "hogwash" - the police have taken a statement from the off-duty officer and have no evidence of a conversation between him and Drysdale. Nor do they have any evidence to suggest that anyone else was present at the time of the collision.

And so it goes on: the dead man's mobile phone, which has been recovered, had not been used to make or receive calls for several hours. Drysdale was not naked before or after the crash - his seat belt was fastened, his trousers caught on it as the body was being removed and were pulled off. He had not been drinking and the toxicology results showed only a faint trace of cannabis. The wreckage of his Mazda is still being tested for signs of electrical or mechanical failure, following a report that the lock on the driver's door had jammed.

So no naked chef, very few certainties, and a classic case of not letting the facts get in the way of the story. Spare a thought this weekend for people whose friends and relatives were involved in the crash, including Drysdale's family, who felt it necessary to express remorse to his "victims" over the past few days.

Oh, and one final detail: according to Southerton, Drysdale's elderly parents have been driven from their home in Birmingham by press harassment, even though no one knows whether their son committed suicide or was himself the victim of a terrible accident.

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