Jury retires to consider findings into Penarth woman’s train death

Bethan Roper
Bethan Roper (PA Media)
17:04pm, Thu 03 Jun 2021
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An inquest jury has begun considering its findings into the death of a woman who was killed by an overhanging tree branch when she stuck her head out of the window of a moving high-speed train.

Bethan Roper, 28, suffered fatal head injuries while a passenger on the Great Western Railway (GWR) travelling at around 75mph.

Miss Roper was returning home to South Wales from a day out with friends Christmas shopping in Bath.

During five days of evidence, Avon Coroner’s Court heard Miss Roper and three friends had boarded the train at Bath Spa station on the evening of December 1 2018.

The GWR London Paddington to Exeter service was using carriages fitted with droplight windows to enable passengers to use the handle on the outside when they needed to leave the train at the platform.

Bethan Roper (PA Media)

Investigators told the inquest that the warning label above the window – a yellow sticker with the words: “Caution do not lean out of window when train is moving” – was not a sufficient deterrent.

Miss Roper was fatally injured just a few minutes after the train left Bath when her head was struck by an ash tree branch growing on land adjacent to the line.

A post-mortem examination found Miss Roper had died from head injuries.

Toxicology tests found she had a blood alcohol level of 142mg in 100ml of blood – meaning she was nearly twice the drink drive limit.

The inquest also heard the tree had undergone inspections in 2009 and 2012 as part of a five-year cycle by Network Rail, which was responsible for the management of trackside vegetation.

The tree had been growing on the embankment five metres from the track and was later colonised by two types of wood decay fungi, which led to the failure of some of its stems.

The branch which killed Miss Roper had by February 2017 fallen towards the railway line and was resting on a chain link fence at the top of the embankment.

Further specialist inspections may have prevented the tragedy, an expert told the hearing.

Julian Forbes-Laird, an arboricultural consultant, said that in his opinion the accident was “foreseeable” because other stems from the tree had needed to be cut because of disease.

“Network Rail standard is to have a five-year cycle of specialist inspection and that happened in 2009 and 2012,” he said.

“Unfortunately, that cycle was not carried out and that tree was not professionally inspected for really quite a number of years and longer than the standard.”

Maria Voisin, senior coroner for Avon, directed the jury to either return a conclusion of misadventure or a narrative conclusion.

She also directed the jury to find the cause of Miss Roper’s death as head injuries.

Miss Roper, from Penarth, South Wales, worked for the Welsh Refugee Council charity and was chairwoman of Young Socialists Cardiff.

The jury will resume its deliberations on Friday.

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