A mother was killed by an express train travelling at 60mph after she climbed down on to railway tracks to ‘scare’ her boyfriend, an inquest heard yesterday.
Charlene Pickering, 23, got on to the tracks at Wimbledon station, south-west London, after arguing with boyfriend Daniel Pickett about what to do with the rest of their evening after she had downed four glasses of wine.
But because of disabilities, including a dropped foot she had sustained in an accident years earlier, she was stuck.
Platform supervisor Olu Owalabi tried desperately to help her to safety but, only four seconds later, Miss Pickering was killed instantly when she was hit by the high-speed train to Exeter.
The station worker remains ‘traumatised’ by his experience, Westminster Coroner’s Court was told.
Coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe yesterday recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.
‘We are not ever going to know what was on her mind but I believe, on the balance of probabilities, this was an impulsive act whilst intoxicated as a result of some disagreement with her boyfriend,’ the coroner said.
‘I think this has been a very tragic combination of alcohol combined with impulsivity and strong will.’
In a statement Mr Owalabi, who could not attend court for medical reasons, said: ‘As I pulled her up a train came and hit her. That was the last time I saw her.’
He had already warned her about dangling her legs over the platform in actions the coroner noted was ‘dabbling in very dangerous practice’.
When asked if anything could have been done to stop the express train Kay Lane, coroners officer for British Transport Police, said: ‘CCTV clearly shows a matter of seconds from when Charlene is first noticed on the tracks.
‘Even if Mr Owalabi had called for help rather than helping her up he would still have not managed to stop the train entering the station. It is a matter of four seconds.’
She added: ‘No-one actually saw her until the crucial moment.’
The train had been driven by a trainee driver under supervision, but instructor Michael Moorgate told the court there was nothing they could do to stop the tragedy.
Mr Pickett was arrested at the scene and restrained as it was feared that he too was going to get on to the tracks and ‘hysterical’ but he was soon released, it was said.
The inquest heard that the incident happened at 7.30pm on January 8 this year.
Mr Pickett told the hearing that the couple had been arguing because Miss Pickering had wanted to stay out drinking, having already had four glasses of wine, while he said they needed to get home.
He said he had thrown her bag and coat at her in an attempt to make her leave, but she was refusing to go and threatened to walk across the tracks.
Mr Pickett told the court: ‘I said to her “Why are you doing this? Don’t be so stupid.”
‘She has done similar stuff to scare me before, nothing as major as this, but once when we were out in Kingston she just walked off down to the river and I think it was just to scare me.’
The inquest heard that Mr Pickett got Miss Pickering away from the platform edge after being warned about her behaviour by staff.
But they continued arguing and, when they went to get on a train, Miss Pickering realised that she had lost her bag.
Mr Pickett said that he called her mother for help, but Miss Pickering shouted ‘This proves how much you love me’ and threw her mobile phone on to the tracks.
He went to get staff to retrieve the phone, but when he returned Miss Pickering had disappeared.
Mr Pickett said: ‘I looked for her and I thought maybe because she said to me before that she was going to walk across the tracks so it was possible she could have done that.
‘I called out and said “where are you?” I was thinking she had walked over across the tracks, I ran upstairs and came down on to the other side of the platform.
‘That is when I called out and I saw her under the lip of the platform.
‘The ticket inspector came down and I said “She is there”. I was telling her “Get up, don’t be so stupid”.
‘That is when the ticket inspector was trying to help her back up… by that time the train was coming.’
The couple met when they were pupils at Rydens School in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, but had only been together for four months.
CCTV footage of the incident was shown to the court.
Describing the footage, Miss Lane, for British Transport Police, said: ‘She is seen standing on the tracks resting her arms on the platform and then in the next still she has both her arms on the platform and appears to be trying to pull herself up.
‘She continues her efforts for several seconds and after this she drops out of view.’
The court heard that Miss Pickering was down on the tracks for four minutes before Mr Pickett and the station worker found her.
Mr Owalabi, who was hearing a high-visibility jacket, was seen trying to pull the woman from the tracks for four seconds until he was thrown backwards as the train arrived.
Miss Pickering’s step-father Guy Pollington, sister Danielle, and aunt attended Westminster Coroners Court.
Her mother, Pamela, did not attend but in a statement said to the court: ‘She was a loving and sociable with a tremendously bubbly personality.
‘She loved to chat and be around people and she lit up a room whenever she entered it.’
Miss Pickering, who had a four-year-old son, was ‘stubborn and feisty’, her mother said, which helped her cope after she was seriously injured in a road traffic accident in 2000.
Following the accident, Miss Pickering had a dropped foot which meant she limped and fell frequently, and she had nerve damage to her spine. She also had metal plates put in her hip.
Miss Pickering feared she was bi-polar and believed she would ‘die young’, her mother said. She had also tried to take an overdose in the past.
Mrs Pollington said in her statement that her daughter went on to the tracks ‘almost certainly not giving thought to the consequences’.
‘We believe she would have felt more than able to climb back up,’ she added.
Miss Pickering’s family believe the platforms were higher than she thought and, because of her disabilities, she became stuck on the line.
Recording her verdict, Dr Radcliffe noted Miss Pickering had a history of ‘attention seeking’ and had tried I the past to scare her boyfriend. Toxicology showed she was drunk when she died.
She said: ‘I don’t believe there is any evidence whatsoever that could lead me to conclude that on January 8 she had any intention of taking her own life.