Bereavement due to traumatic death

Nina - Interview 37

Age at interview: 84

Brief outline: In 2002 Nina's husband, Austen, was killed in the Potters Bar rail crash. She was seriously hurt. Nina campaigned for compensation for the families of those who died. Nina misses her husband. She wrote the book 'Dear Austen' to tell him what happened.

Background: Nina is a novelist. She is a widow and has 5 children. Ethnic background/nationality' White British.

Audio & video

In 2002 Nina’s husband, Autsen, was killed in the Potters Bar rail crash. On the day of the crash, Nina and her husband were going to Cambridge for a party. They were in the last carriage, which derailed because of badly aligned points. Seven people were killed in the crash and many others injured.
Nina was seriously injured and taken to a local hospital. She was unconscious for a while. When she woke up she was told that Austen was missing. However, soon it was confirmed that Austen had died, which Nina found hard to believe. Many people visited Nina in hospital, including police liaison officers, who advised, consoled, and offered practical help. After a series of operations Nina was able to return home. She still found it hard to believe that Austen had died.
Nina left hospital earlier than advised by her doctors because she wanted the funeral to take place so that her children could have a holiday. Nina believes that her children suffered even more than she did as the result of the rail crash and what happened. Nina’s grand-children sang beautifully at the funeral. Later there was also a memorial service, arranged by the BBC, which Nina found comforting though very hard to bear. Many people said lovely things about Austen and there were some grand eulogies.
At the time of the crash, Railtrack owned and operated the line, and a privatised company was responsible for the maintenance of the track. At first Railtrack denied that they were responsible for the train crash, and the company responsible for maintenance talked about possible sabotage and did not accept that the points had been misaligned due to poor maintenance. As Nina became stronger she fought for compensation, not just for herself, but for all the other families of those killed or injured in the crash. She talked to the press and organised rallies round the country. Eventually the companies concerned did admit liability and decent compensation was paid to all the families of the dead and injured. It was then that Nina realised that Austen was never coming back.
After all the campaigning and frantic activity Nina’s life changed. She believes she had a “kind of breakdown”. She felt unable to leave the house or go to crowded places. She still dislikes going out. Nina has been greatly supported by family and friends. At one stage Nina went to see a psychiatrist, who recommended a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. Nina met the therapist but decided that therapy was a waste of time.
The families are still waiting for either an inquest or a public inquiry. At first a public inquiry was not allowed and an inquest was opened. However, the inquest was suspended in 2008 when another train was derailed in Cumbria due to faulty points. The inquest for the seven people killed at Potters Bar will not be re-opened until the investigation into the Cumbrian crash has been completed. The High Court Judge, assigned to conduct the Potters Bar inquest, has called for an inquiry into possible links between the rail crash in Cumbria, and the Potters Bar Rail crash.
Nina is still working. In 2005 she wrote “Dear Austen” a letter to her husband to tell him what had happened at the time of the rail crash and afterwards. The book was dedicated to the memory of the seven people who were killed at Potters Bar and to the families and friends they left behind (see below for details of the book). The book has been described as a touching tribute to Austen and their life together and a “damning indictment of unaccountable corporate power.”
Nina Bawden (2005) Dear Austen. Published by Virago Press, London


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email