Leslie  

Everything stated herein is completely factual.  

At a little after 8.38am, leaving Drayton Park for the fourth time that morning, Leslie waved to a colleague.

What can I tell you about Leslie?

Well, he was a 56 year old man, happily married to Helen for over 35 years. They had two daughters and Leslie was a Grandfather, following the birth of his first Grandson, Robert, six months previously. A Grandchild was what Leslie had really wanted and he had said to his Daughter at the time: "That was the best present any man could get".

Leslie and Helen lived in a council flat in south-east London. There, tucked away in a corner cupboard, stood a bottle of Whisky and one of Bacardi but Leslie was never actually a drinker of spirits. Indeed, he drank only rarely and then just a very occasional half pint of brown ale. The tipple Leslie really loved was tea!

As for Leslie’s health, he was a well man and had not suffered from any serious illnesses. He never took any kind of sedatives, tranquillisers or sleeping pills but he was a little hard of hearing; something  which tended to make him rather shy and lonely, at times even introspective (but never a day-dreamer). Yet even though Leslie was a man with few real pals, he did enjoy a friendly relationship with his work colleagues, having a cheerful disposition and being seen as somebody with whom one could always share a joke.

It is true that several months previously he had been to see the family doctor with symptoms of sexual impotence but this is a not uncommon ailment from time-to-time in middle aged men. However, Leslie was not the kind of person to have wept on other people's shoulders about any difficulties or to have gone out of his way for help. He certainly was not in any way depressed. Indeed, he was looking forward to a holiday in America and excited about the prospect of acquiring a new camera. More immediately, he had promised his Brother-in-Law to help paint his house over the coming weekend.

Although quiet and unassuming with orderly habits and not necessarily the type to hold conversations, Leslie was a normal, stable person with a good sense of humour. In short, he was a happy, healthy, family man, in love with his wife just as much as that day in 1939 when he was married.

The only time Leslie had been apart from his wife since their marriage was during the war, when he was in the Army. Although he rarely, if ever, spoke of it, Leslie was a survivor of Dunkirk, that mass evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of the French town in the Second World War. He had, though, mentioned it in passing only that morning when his colleague Bob Harris told him he was going camping that night. Leslie’s immediate reply was “You’re mad! I wouldn’t go camping in this weather. I loved it at Dunkirk but I would sooner go into a hotel”.

Employed on the capital’s transport system since March 1969, Leslie had been transferred to his present duties three months previously. In addition to his cheerfulness, he was known by his colleagues to be careful, meticulous, conscientious and cautious in his work. It was clear to all that he both enjoyed and was proud of his job. He always wore his uniform in full and had recorded only two days of non-certificated sickness absence on his staff record.

On 27 February 1975, Leslie went to the Building Society and drew out some £270 to buy a second-hand car for his daughter the following day, when he came off shift. That night he had six hours sleep and left the flat early without, as usual, having had any breakfast, save for a cup of tea. In addition to the money for the car in his jacket, Leslie took with him in a satchel a screw-top bottle of milk, some sugar, his Rule Book and a notebook. These last two Leslie had previously covered in a plastic material to protect the covers from wear and tear: further evidence of his conscientiousness.

That Friday morning, Leslie arrived at work at 6.10am, in good time to join his colleagues for another cup of tea before starting duty at 6.24am. He was his normal self and shared his milk and sugar with a colleague, jokingly saying to him "Go easy on it; I shall want another cup when I come off duty".

This was a cup never to be poured. At just after 8.45am that morning, train 272, driven by Leslie, sped through Platform 9, smashed through the red light in front of a sand drag, entered a short extension tunnel and, at 35 miles per hour, crashed into its dead-end wall. The station was Moorgate.

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The Moorgate tube crash was - and remains - the worst peacetime accident in the history of the London Underground. 43 people died and a further 74 were treated in hospital for injuries.

The crash forced the 52 feet long first carriage of the Northern Line train into a tight v-shape, crumpling it to just 20 feet in length. The second carriage, colliding with the first, telescoped into almost half its length whilst the third carriage rode up over the rear of the second. The final three of the light steel carriages remained relatively unscathed, the rear of the train protruding from the tunnel at the end of the platform.

The carnage was possibly exacerbated by virtue of the fact that the tunnels on the line were larger than the standard underground bore, having been originally designed for use by main line overground trains.

In the 13 days leading up to that fateful Friday rush-hour morning, Leslie had driven 121 times into Platform 9 without incident, just as he had done three times already that morning. Witnesses standing on the platform at the time of the disaster saw him in the driver’s cab sitting upright and facing forward, his uniform neat and Leslie wearing his cap; his hands on the train's controls in their usual driving position.

The body of driver Leslie Newson was the last to be brought out from the wreckage, four days after the accident. His cab, normally three feet deep, had been crushed to just six inches.

A subsequent investigation showed that the brakes had not been applied to the train and that the “dead man’s handle” was still depressed when it crashed. No fault was found with the train.

A post mortem on Leslie’s body showed that he had not had a heart attack, nor had he suffered an epileptic fit. He had not even raised his hands to protect his face when the crash occurred. The Home Office pathologist found no physical conditions, such as a stroke or a heart attack which would have explained the crash. Initial findings showed no drugs or alcohol in Leslie’s bloodstream and there was no evidence of liver damage from heavy drinking.

The Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways concluded that the cause of the accident lay entirely in the behaviour of Leslie during the final minute before the accident occurred. He stated “Whether his behaviour was deliberate or whether it was the result of a suddenly arising physical condition not revealed as a result of post-mortem examination, there is not sufficient evidence to examine but I am satisfied that no part of the responsibility for the accident rests with any other person and that there was no fault or condition of the train, track or signalling that in any way contributed to it”.

A jury returned a verdict of accidental death on the 43 victims. What caused Leslie’s actions - or, rather, inactions - remains a complete mystery to this day.

© Richard Farquharson, Haddenham, Cambridgeshire February 2020 (for the forty fifth anniversary of the Moorgate tube crash)