On a foggy evening in December 1957 a steam train crashed into a stationary electric train just north of Lewisham. The steam train was thrown to the left and damaged the pillar of an overhead railway bridge, causing it to collapse. Both trains were packed (it was estimated that they were carrying over 2000 passengers between them) and 89 people died. This photo, from a parliamentary report into the crash, shows the extent of the carnage.
A huge rescue effort commenced and a number of local people joined in, including Mr Chadwick, who lived in a street backing on to the railway line. Mr Chadwick spent the night pulling the injured and the dead from the wreckage. He was a small man and at one point he crawled into a damaged carriage to give an injured passenger an injection as the doctor was too large to crawl in himself.
After the accident Mr Chadwick's mental health deteriorated. He lost weight and was unable to sleep. A psychiatrist diagnosed him as having suffered a "catastrophic neurosis". He died in 1962, of reasons unconnected to the crash. Mrs Chadwick brought a claim against the train operator on behalf of her late husband. The train operator accepted that their negligence had caused the crash but denied that they had owed a duty of care to a voluntary rescuer such as Mr Chadwick.
Where is it on the map?
At point b.
Mrs Chadwick won. The High Court held that the train operator had owed Mr Chadwick a duty of care even though he had been a voluntary rescuer, and had not suffered any physical injury.
What's the principle of law?
The case is authority for a number of principles of law:
- A defendant may be liable for injury caused to a person even when the person has put themselves in harm's way, where it was reasonably foreseeable that they might try to help a rescue effort.
- A defendant may be liable for psychiatric damage caused to a person, even when he or she is not also physically hurt.
- It is not possible to escape liability for psychiatric injury on grounds of remoteness where there is nothing in the claimant's personality that would make them particularly sensitive to psychiatric injury.
The collapsed bridge was replaced by a temporary structure a month after the crash. I have not been able to substantiate the claim that the bridge in use today is in fact the 'temporary' bridge.
A parliamentary report into the crash recommended that new, automatic, signalling be installed on the railway network. A plaque in Lewisham station commemorates the lives lost.
This short newsreel shows the aftermath of the crash, and includes interviews with some visibly shaken members of the public who, like Mr Chadwick, had joined the rescue effort: