'I’ve been left to exist alone': Partner of conductor killed in Stonehaven derailment 'unable to comprehend' his death

7 September 2023, 11:52

Network Rail has admitted health and safety failings over a rail crash that claimed three lives.
Network Rail has admitted health and safety failings over a rail crash that claimed three lives. Picture: Handout
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The partner of the conductor killed in the Stonehaven derailment has described the harrowing moment she learned of her partner's death.

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It comes after Network Rail pleaded guilty to failings around the incident in which three people died in Aberdeenshire in August 2020.

Train driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, died in the derailment near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, on August 12, 2020.

At the High Court in Aberdeen on Thursday, the company admitted a charge covering the period from May 1, 2011 to August 12, 2020

ScotRail worker Donald Dinnie was one of those who lost their lives - leaving behind his heartbroken partner of eight years Trish Ewan who has today recalled the moment she found out about the crash.

“I got a phone call while I was at work to say there was a train accident and I went to a family member’s house and we all sat around the television – we didn’t know what else to do," she told LBC.

“No one had called us so we still had no confirmation if it was Donald’s train – but I knew in my gut it was."

Donald Dinnie and Trish Ewan
Donald Dinnie and Trish Ewan. Picture: Handout

Ms Ewan went on: “Despite this gut feeling I still actually expected Donald to be fine – I told myself ‘He is the conductor so he’ll be busy helping the passengers.’

“Later we heard the driver died and that’s when my stomach started turning and I feared the worst.

“I felt dizzy. Like the blood drained from my head. My hands and arms felt heavy and shaky and almost disconnected from the rest of my body. I was just in a daze.

“The day had started like any other – Donald and I preparing breakfast, talking about our plans for that evening after work…

“I couldn’t understand how things went from that to this. I couldn’t understand how Donald was here then gone. I couldn’t comprehend how our life together went from normal to over. Just like that.”

“The last three years has completely turned my life upside down. Donald and I should be thinking about retiring together and planning the rest of our lives – instead he was taken and I’ve been left to exist alone.

“Life throws challenges at us all but something like this is so incomprehensible that there’s no past experiences to draw on to ease any acceptance or recovery.

“You don’t know what to do, where to turn and there’s genuinely nothing to do but brace yourself for each new day without your loved one."

Read More: Stretch of M20 motorway heading towards ports shut down as manhunt for escaped terror suspect continues

Read More: Network Rail admits several health and safety failings led to Aberdeenshire train crash that killed three in 2020

Network Rail has admitted it failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practical, that railway workers not in its employment and members of the public travelling by train were not exposed to the "risk of serious injury and death from train derailment" as a result of failures in the construction, inspection and maintenance of drainage assets and in adverse and extreme weather planning.

Alex Prentice KC, prosecuting, told the court that the weather had been "so significant" on the day the derailment took place, that both Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council declared a major emergency.

Donald Dinnie was one of those who lost their lives - leaving behind his heartbroken partner of eight years Trish Ewan
Donald Dinnie was one of those who lost their lives - leaving behind his heartbroken partner of eight years Trish Ewan. Picture: Handout

One survivor of the derailment has told LBC how she was thrown out of a carriage window and left covered in blood.

Speaking anonymously, she said: "I was reading a novel on my iPad and the first time I realised there was an issue was when the movement on the train felt weird.

"It just didn’t feel typical… it was like floating or sliding… like when you aquaplane in a car. "There was a strange noise like metal dragging along metal. I will never forget that noise.

"I looked up at that moment and almost immediately I was thrown across the carriage. I hit the window head on and I was knocked out.

"The next thing I remember was waking up at the side of the railway line and I could see the train behind me. The train was completely off the rails.

"The carriage directly behind me was laying across the rail track, crushed under another carriage. I later found out that the crushed carriage was the one that I had been ejected from."

She continued: "There was blood over my face from a head wound near my eye. My clothes were also covered in blood and I could feel a bone sticking out my left shoulder.

"My ears were ringing so it was hard to make things out. But I remember two sounds – one was a weird deep humming noise coming from the train and the other was a voice… a scream… someone calling for help and someone else shouting back that help was coming.

"I lost all my belongings in the crash, so I relied on both another passenger and members of the public, to tell my family I was alive."

She also alleges very little support has been offered to survivors by Network Rail who she "blames for making her mental trauma worse".

She added: "For me, it felt like Network Rail forgot I was even there that day. I feel like their duty of care to me got lost. “I was never given the chance to go back to the scene after 12 August 2020."

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