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The fatal attempt on the part of a signalman to cross the line when a train was due, was revealed at an inquest held by Mr G Vere Benson (Coroner for East Sussex) at Southease Halt on Saturday, on Leonard Louis Blunden. Deceased was knocked down by the 1.58 train from Lewes to Seaford as it was passing through the Halt [in Beddingham parish – web editor] the previous Wednesday afternoon, and was killed instantly, receiving terrible injuries.
Mr H F Hawes (solicitor) represented the LB and SC Railway, and the inquest was also attended by Mr E Purses (locomotive inspector) and Mr T Pargeter (National Union of Railwaymen), who represented the widow.
Mrs Martha G Blunden (wife of the deceased) said her husband was 39 years of age. She last saw him alive about 1.30 on the afternoon in question, and he was then quite well. He returned to the signal-box and was working till 2 o'clock, as far as she knew. He was to be relieved at 2 o'clock, but she did not see him leave the signal-box or anything of the accident.
Henry Thomas Martin, another signalman, said he relieved deceased at 2 o'clock. Deceased left the box and walked along the platform where the motor-train was standing, to see some friends off. He left the train before it started and walked to the signal-box again. Witness called out to him: 'don't let Mrs Stevens cross the line in front of the train'. Deceased had closed the door of the signal-box when witness said this, but he returned to ask witness what he had said, witness repeated his statement, and deceased replied: 'Right, Harry'. Deceased left the box again as witness was attending to the down train. Witness saw him in the four-feet way when the train was practically upon him. Deceased was carrying a gun.
The Coroner – Your telling him about Mrs Stevens should have reminded him of the approaching train?
Witness – It should have done, Sir.
Witness continuing, said deceased had received and answered the warning signal in connection with the train before he left the signal-box.
Mrs Selina Frances Stevens, wife of William Alfred Stevens, platelayer, said she left the motor-train from Seaford to Lewes at the Halt, and walked down the platform, stopping at the gate on the upside as she saw the train approaching. Witness saw deceased walk off the platform and go into the signal-box. He came out with a gun, which he was carrying under his right arm.
The Coroner at this stage asked Mrs Blunden if the gun belonged to deceased. She replied that it belonged to the friend that he had seen off by train, and that he kept it for his friend.
Mrs Stevens, continuing, said deceased began to cross the line. When he got within the four-feet way of the down-line witness, noticing the approach of the train, called to the deceased to stop. Even if he had stopped witness was afraid it was too late. When she called deceased turned round sharply towards the train, and appeared to jump forward, as if in an effort to get clear. At that moment he was struck by the train. The train appeared to strike the gun first, and witness saw the butt fall of. The train proceeded to Newhaven; it didn't slow up at all.
William Coppard, the driver of the train that caught deceased – the 1.58 pm from Lewes to Newhaven – said he saw nothing of the accident. When he reached Seaford he was told there had been one and he examined the engine. He did not find any marks on it, or any other part of the train. There was no doubt about it that his engine did knock deceased down.
The Coroner – How was it that you did not see deceased?
Witness – The engine was on a curve, with a tender behind.
How far ahead could you see? - About ten or twelve yards.
Witness added that the fireman was keeping the ordinary look-out.
The Coroner – It is part of your duty to watch a crossing? - Yes, Sir.
Witness said his fireman gave the ordinary whistle.
Mr Hawes – How far away is the whistle board?
Witness – About 150 yards from the crossing.
The Coroner – If your engine struck the butt of a gun would you be likely to feel it? - No, I don't think so.
If you engine struck a man would you feel it? - No.
Mr Hawes – What speed were you going? - About 35 miles per hour.
Dr Devine, of Newhaven, who examined deceased after the accident, said he was bleeding from the ears, nose and mouth, and there was direct evidence of a fractured skull, which was the cause of death. Both bones of the right leg were smashed and were protruding, and the left upper arm was a mass of protruding fractures. This looked as if deceased had received a direct blow from the engine.
The Coroner, who sat without a jury, said deceased was doing what he had done many times before, but he cut it too fine. He did not think there was any reason for censuring the driver or fireman, and there did not seem to be anything wrong with the railway company's arrangements. His verdict was one of 'Death from misadventure'.
Mr Hawes, on behalf of the railway company, expressed sympathy with the widow and relatives of the deceased, and Mr Pargeter, on behalf of deceased's fellow workers, associated himself with these sentiments.
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