A train driver who suffered psychological injuries when his train killed a suicide victim who had laid his head down on the tracks has received compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS).
However if government cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) are passed by Parliament tomorrow (Wednesday 7 November), train drivers will no longer be able to claim for the trauma caused by witnessing a suicide.
Donald Stewart, 29, from Pontypridd had only been driving trains on his own for 18 months before the accident on the line between Merthyr and Cardiff.
It was a routine journey but as the train rounded a bend he spotted the suicide victim with his neck on the line. Despite applying the train’s emergency brakes he was helpless other than to watch as his train went on to hit the man.
Following the incident he suffered from flashbacks and nightmares in which he was unable to control a train. He worried about being able to stop the train during normal circumstances and was off work for a year whilst he dealt with the psychological impact.
Mr Stewart received substantial counselling whilst off and has made a good recovery. He is now back at work as normal.
Following the accident his trade union, ASLEF referred him to lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to make a CICS claim.
The CICS is a government fund which compensates victims of violent crimes. Railway workers can currently claim compensation for the trauma of seeing someone commit suicide in front of them, and the horror of the aftermath. The awards are allocated on a tariff basis.
Mr Stewart was awarded £4,400.
A government dominated parliamentary committee last week agreed a new CICS which excludes injuries caused by trespass on the railway, and reduced awards for many other types of injuries. Trade unions have campaigned against the cuts and Labour MPs have opposed the changes. Labour has secured a debate on the cuts on Wednesday afternoon, which will be followed by a vote by all MPs.
Mr Stewart said: “I had been driving trains for three years but had only been driving on my own for 18 months. When I saw the man on the tracks I applied the emergency breaks but the train takes a very long time to slow and stop and I knew that I had no chance of avoiding him.
“Following the incident which was horrible to experience I suffered from flashbacks and nightmares. They were always the same, I was unable to control the train. I was worried that I might lose control during a normal journey.
“Fortunately I’m now back at work and things are going well. I’m grateful to the support I’ve received from my trade union and Thompsons. I know first hand how traumatic these types of incidents are and believe they should continue to be recognised by the CICS. I am appalled that drivers who might go through what I saw and experienced are to be banned by the government from getting any compensation for the horror. ”
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This member’s experience is a perfect example of why the proposals to change CICS provisions are so unjust. Train drivers commonly have to deal with people illegally trespassing on the tracks in order to commit suicide. Often there is nothing they can do to prevent the worst from happening and they are the first on the scene in extremely gruesome circumstances. They have to deal with the psychological impact of knowing they were unable to prevent a death. CICS payments never compensate for the strains of these incidents but at least it was an acknowledgement of what they endure. To remove these provisions is petty, vindictive and mean.”
Harriet Wheeler from Thompsons Solicitors added: “This train driver was hugely traumatised as a result of this incident. Under the CICS reforms his application would have been rejected yet he would still be dealing with the affects of the suicide victims actions.”
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