Barns Green railway crossing inquest: ‘We are still mystified about what happened’

Relatives of a teenager and his grandfather who died when a car was struck by a train at a level crossing in Barns Green have paid tribute to them at an inquest into their deaths.

Thursday, 17th January 2019, 3:14 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:39 pm

Barry Hearnshaw, 71, was driving his grandson William Hallett, 15, to a football match when the tragedy unfolded on February 17 last year.

Barry’s wife Jacqueline and Will’s mum Jilly both paid tribute to the pair and said they did not believe the pensioner deliberately drove across the crossing.

The inquest heard how Barry and Will, who both lived in Barns Green, were heading off to one of Will’s football matches with the teenager sitting in the front passenger seat next to his grandfather.

At about 8.40am the car was struck by a train at the level crossing in Emms Lane.

Jilly said the last time she saw her son was at home on the morning of the incident just before Will went round to his grandfather’s to get a lift to football.

She paid tribute to her son and grandfather and said her life will never be the same again.

She said: “My father has always been a devoted grandfather.

“Will touched a lot of people’s hearts there were over 350 people at his funeral and there was not a dry eye in the house.”

She added: “We simply don’t know what happened in this incident. All I know is we lost our adored son and father. Things will never be the same again we love Will so much and he will never leave our hearts and minds. We will miss him for the rest of our lives. He was our world.”

Barry’s wife Jacqueline said he idolised his grandchildren and any suggestion he made a ‘conscious decision’ to drive across the crossing was ‘absurd’.

She said: “We are still totally mystified about what happened on that day.”

“In our opinion any suggestion that he made any conscious decision to drive across the crossing is absurd.

“He (Barry) was a devoted grandfather who absolutely adored his grandchildren.

“He spent many hours at the weekend watching Will playing sport which was one of his favourite activities.”

Penelope Schofield, principal coroner for West Sussex added: “The family have very strong views but they do not believe Mr Hearnshaw deliberately drove across the crossing contravening the barriers.”

The inquest heard the train was travelling at 73mph and that the driver would have only seen the crossing three seconds before arriving at it. The rail speed limit in the area was 75mph.

In statement by the train driver Mark Taylor, read out by the Coroner’s Officer, he explained he had started his shift at 4.40am in the morning, driving a service from London Victoria to Three Bridges. He had then travelled to Horsham and was driving the 8.33am Horsham to Bognor service.

He said as he approached the Barns Green crossing the signal was green for him to carry on.

“I was facing forward watching the track ahead and there was a flash of blue in front of me,” he said in the statement.

“It all happened so so quick. One second it was not there the next second it was in front.’’

The inquest hearing continues.