Advertisement

Coroner wants east London railway safety review after top lawyer falls to her death

 (X)
(X)

A coroner has called for improvements to security measures at a stretch of east London train track after a top lawyer jumped to her death.

Vanessa Ford, 47, a partner at law firm, left her home and leapt in front of a train after she “consumed a significant amount of alcohol while undergoing an acute mental health crisis”, an inquest heard.

She died in September 2023 having just finished working on the sale of Everton FC to a private equity firm.

The inquest at Inner North London Coroners’ Court heard that Ms Ford, had attended a celebratory lunch in Manchester the day before her death to mark the completion of the transaction.

A toxicology report presented to the inquest revealed that her blood alcohol level at the time of her death was “incredibly high”.

Her husband, wine educator Oliver Ford, provided a statement to the inquest which described his wife as “the perfect person to be around” who was “good at everything”, including being a lawyer, a mother and a friend.

He said that she “worked very hard to satisfy all her responsibilities” and that he had “never known Vanessa to work so intensely” as she had on the “all-consuming” deal, according to law industry website RollonFriday.

Coroner Ian Potter issued a report at the inquest recommending Network Rail and Camden Council improve walls and other security measures to prevent further deaths.

He said in his conclusions at the end of the hearing on 26 February there had been three other incidents, which had not ended in fatalities, on the stretch of railway near Hackney.

He wrote: “Vanessa Ford consumed a significant amount of alcohol while undergoing an acute mental health crisis. She accessed and allowed herself to drop onto the railway tracks below, where she was later struck by a train. There is insufficient evidence to suggest that she intended to take her own life.

“During the course of the inquest the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken.

“I was provided with evidence that there have been three (non-fatal) incidents in the vicinity of the Hackney Central/Dalston Kingsland areas of the rail network in the 12 months prior to this incident on 23 September 2023.

“The concern here is that there is evidence to suggest that access to the railway tracks by members of the public may be a frequent issue in this vicinity. “Evidence provided from CCTV footage and photographic evidence taken by the British Transport Police demonstrated that the particular piece of wall, which was used to access the railway network on 23 September 2023, was relatively low, despite an approximate drop onto the tracks below being 20 feet.  “This raises the concern that the mitigation/safety measures in place on the wall may not have been as effective as one might expect. “The CCTV footage and photographic evidence presented to me, demonstrated that Ms Ford’s access to the wall, and thereby the railway network below.”

He called on Network Rail and the London Borough of Camden to do more to prevent access to the tracks adding “the concern here is that the siting of items of street furniture generally on this bridge poses risks to all manner of members of the public, from those contemplating suicide, to young children, and may undermine safety efforts to impede easy access to the railway network.”

The inquest heard that Ms Ford had not raised any issues with her employer on workload or any other matter before her death.

In a statement, Pinsent Masons Managing Partner Laura Cameron said, “Vanessa was a much-loved and respected member of our firm, and we remain deeply saddened by her death. The inquest proceedings and conclusions were distressing to hear for all that knew her, and of course especially for her family and friends still grieving her loss”.

Addressing the focus on work/life balance at the firm, she told RollonFriday, “We work in a profession where balancing work and family life can be difficult and presents challenges – particularly for working parents. We want this to be an ongoing conversation with colleagues to ensure we are doing everything we can to support our people”.