‘I will never forget that day’

Rail crash at Great Heck - Selby 28/2/2001
Rail crash at Great Heck - Selby 28/2/2001
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IT may have been a decade since the Great Heck rail disaster, but the memory of what happened that day is still fresh in the minds of those who survived.

At 6.15am on February 28 2001, a high-speed collision between a London express train and a 1,800-tonne freight killed ten people and seriously injured 82 passengers. The crash happened after a Land Rover veered off the westbound carriageway of the M62 and on to the railway tracks.

The Express reported how staff at Pontefract General Infirmary were on red alert as casualties from the GNER service from Newcastle to London were rushed to nearby hospitals and a week after the incident, a mother and daughter from Ledston made the front page with the story of their survival.

Ten years on, Jean Batson, 68, and daughter Sarah, 30 – who have since moved to Carlisle – shared their memories of the tragedy.

On the morning of the crash Jean’s husband, the Rev Bob Batson, then vicar of Ledsham and Fairburn, dropped the pair off at York railway station to catch the train, but less than 20 minutes into the journey, disaster struck.

Sarah said: “I remember every minute of it. Mum told me to hold on, the train jerked and then the big crash happened. The train started to roll over and over.

“I flew from one side of the train to the other but luckily I was alright and then I just remember screaming for mum.

“Someone came and smashed a window open and put a ladder up. I didn’t want to leave my mum but I was told I had to. I had to step over broken glass and bits of metal. I saw a couple of bodies lying there, it was horrible.

“It was only when I got home that my dad told me he knew where mum was and that she was alive.”

Sarah escaped from the wreckage with only cuts and bruises, but Jean’s injuries were more severe.

Jean said: “I have no memory of it at all. All I can think of is telling Sarah to hold on.

“My injuries were rather bad. I had a great big chunk taken out of my leg and had to have a skin graft. I also had broken ribs, a broken pelvis and a dislocated elbow. I was in intensive care and then high dependency for quite a few weeks.”

With support from Bob, Jean and Sarah have since been able to overcome the trauma of what happened and travel by train again but both admit that they still frequently think about the horrific collision and it has been at the forefront of their thoughts this week.

Sarah said: “I recovered physically but it’s just the memories I still have and will always have. I’ll never forget that day.

“It has been on my mind for the last few weeks because I knew it was coming to the tenth anniversary. I have been talking about it a lot to my friends because I know how lucky I was to have survived.”

Following the rescue mission and a police investigation, the driver of the Land Rover, Gary Hart, went on trial and was found guilty of ten counts of causing death by dangerous driving, after the court heard he stayed up all night talking to a woman he met online before getting behind the wheel of his car.

Jean said: “I just think he was stupid for staying awake all night and then driving. Even now if I see some people doing things when they’re driving, especially using they’re phones and silly things like that, it really irritates me. But it is in the past, you move on.”