A blind man who died after being hit by a train lay untreated for 10 minutes because emergency services were unsure whether the tracks were still live, an inquest heard.
Cleveland Gervais, 53, was still talking after being struck when he fell off the platform at Eden Park station in south-east London at around 7:05 pm on 26 February 2020, it was said.
Power on the tracks is said to have been switched off after the incident, but first responders say this was not immediately confirmed to them – leaving them in doubt about whether it was safe to start rescue efforts.
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The London Ambulance Service (LAS) and British Transport Police (BTP) arrived at around 7:18 pm, but paramedics did not access Mr Gervais until 7:28 pm, a jury at South London Coroner’s Court was told.
By the time he had been taken off the tracks, he was no longer breathing, the inquest was told.
Jude Bunting QC, representing Mr Gervais’ family, said the driver had been “shouting” to emergency service workers at the scene that the electricity was turned off, but police and paramedics claim they did not hear.
The LAS control room had also allegedly been told the tracks were no longer live, but did not relay this information to first responders on the ground, the inquest heard.
Peter Gallon, a paramedic who attended the scene, told jurors he refused to send his crewmates down to tend to Mr Gervais if there was an apparent risk to their lives on the rail.
“My colleague told me (rail) staff weren’t sure the power was off and to me that’s not good enough,” he said.
“There’s no second chance here, there’s no plan B. If we make a mistake here one of my team is going to die. This has to be accurate, it has to be correct and I have to be sure.”
Asked why there had been 10 minutes during which “a lot of people” appeared to know the power was off and Mr Gervais remained untreated, Mr Gallon said: “No clinical care was being given to Mr Gervais in that time frame because I couldn’t confirm that the power was off.”
Jurors heard emergency services waited until a specialist Rail Incident Officer (RIO) attended to physically confirm the electricity was off before going onto the rail, which is not typically required.
BTP Sergeant Stephen Hewitt, who attended the scene, described the incident as “traumatic”, but said he would not have acted differently in hindsight because of the “complex” and dangerous nature of the incident.
“Every incident has to be treated on its own merits and individually risk assessed, this one being one of the most complex in terms of access and it had a much higher risk because of the contact that was required with the live rail,” the officer told jurors.
“As traumatic of an incident as this was for everyone involved, in my mind there is nothing that I could have done to have sped up access to Mr Gervais.”
Ambulance service worker Sean Warner helped to tend to Mr Gervais, who was registered blind, and said he appeared to have some “shallow breathing” at around 7.18pm, but was later unresponsive.
“When Mr Warner actually went onto the track to tend to Mr Gervais the patient was no longer breathing. We’ve heard from (another witness) that Mr Gervais was talking to her until the arrival of ambulance service staff at around 7.18pm,” Mr Bunting said.
BTP Superintendent Stacy Harfield acknowledged that it “wasn’t very clear” in some circumstances whether power was off when responding to incidents on the railway and changes had been made to the system since Mr Gervais’ death.
“One of the things I noticed is that between us and Network Rail it wasn’t very clear in some circumstances when power was off so it could be quite difficult and people would use different wording,” she said.
A “pro forma” system has now been introduced which allows officers and rail staff to more easily relay information about the status of the tracks, the officer added.
Mr Gervais’ family attended the inquest on Tuesday and at times left the room as evidence about the final moments of his life was read to the court.
The inquest, which is due to last five days, continues on Wednesday.Enjoy more Railways Illustrated Magazine reading every month. Click here to subscribe.