Derailment at Saltash Passage

Derailment at Saltash Passage

Boys will be boys!


Mount Edgcumbe Training-Ship.  Boys sent to Assizes


At Crownhill yesterday before Col. Swiney and Col. Briggs, two boys from the Mount Edgcumbe Training Ship were charged with causing the derailment of a L&SWR Co’s train by placing stones on the line near St. Budeaux on Monday afternoon. The boys are aged 13 and 14 respectively. Mr. I. Foot

Mr. Foot said on the day mentioned the 4.55 p.m. train from Friary Station Plymouth, to Tavistock, proceeded on its journey until the time of the accident, about 5.29 p.m. The accident took place at a curve in the line about one mile from St. Budeaux, near the cottage hospital connected with the Mount Edgcumbe Training Ship. When the train travelling at a speed of 30 miles an hour, arrived at the curve the driver felt the engine jump, and almost immediately the train became derailed. The engine ran for a distance of about 150 yards off the lines. Then the second coach of the train became detached and fell on its side over the embankment, towards the River Tamar. The last two coaches and a van remained on the permanent way, also being derailed. There was considerable damage to property but, fortunately no loss of life.

Down train’s narrow escape

There were not many passengers on the train, and these in some cases were injured but not seriously. It was a very narrow escape for the down train, as if it has passed that spot a minute later than it did there might have been a serious accident. After the accident a sergeant of the Cornwall County Police visited the spot and found some pieces of stone; recently broken along the side of the up road, very near the place where the permanent way had been torn up. Inquiries were made by Sergt. Cruse and Detective-Sergt. Luker and on the following day confessions were made by the boys now charged. No words of his were needed to emphasize the monstrous folly of which the accused had been guilty, and it seemed miraculous in the circumstances that they were not there on the most serious of charges.

Wm. J. Pring, sub-inspector, engineering department, L&SWR., said the stones found on the line were from the company’s quarry at Oakhampton, and would be used by the company only as ballast.

P.S. Hibberd, Saltash, describing the scene after the accident, stated that the rails and sleepers were smashed to pieces, and the permanent way torn up. At a point some distance before where the permanent way was damaged he found on the rails seven distinct impressions of stones within a distance of six feet, and from there in the direction of the wrecked train there was a mark of something on the top of the rails for a length of 19 sleepers. He picked up near this spot several pieces of stone, freshly broken.


The driver congratulated

The driver of the train, Fredrick John Bowden, who was congratulated by the Bench on his narrow escape, said he felt a heavy jerk as if the engine has struck or passed over some hard substance. The derailment of the train followed. He applied the continuous brake. The down train had passed them just before the accident.


Boys’ confessions

Sgt. Cruse deposed to visiting the Mount Edgcumbe Training-ship, where he questioned the younger defendant, and subsequently he went to the Cottage Hospital, where he spoke to the older defendant. All the boys he saw denied having been on the railway. With Detective-Sgt. Luker, of the company’s police, witness saw the boys on the following day. After first denying all knowledge of the accident the elder defendant said, “At five o’clock yesterday XXX and myself had a stone and put it on the line, XXX picked the stone up off the bank, and with him I put it on the line. There were two stones. We both then came down and got in the garden path. XXX went across to the gate and said, ‘Say nothing about it,’ ” The other boy was brought from the ship and persisted in his denial of the charge. Witness then asked the lad who made the confession if he would show him how he got on to the line. The boy agreed, and led the way through the shrubs to the railway fence and pointed to the spot where the mark was on the rails. Witness returned to the hospital and said to XXX, “This boy is telling the truth. I believe he did go to the line.” The other lad then burst into tears and said, “Yes, we put stones on the line. XXX came to me when I was on duty at the gate and asked me to come on the railway bank, which I did. We both put a stone on the line and came back to the garden path.” XXX In reply to Mr. Square, witness said the boys had since told that they thought the stones would be broken and that no injury would be done to the train. Both lads appeared penitent. In the course of his inquiries he had received every assistance from the officers of the Mount Edgcumbe and the matron of the hospital.

Several objections by Mr. Square to the admission of the boys’ statement were overruled by the Bench.

Detective-Sgt, Luker corroborated.

An officer from the Mount Edgcumbe said one of the boys had been on the ship eighteen months, and bore a good character. The other boy arrived a fortnight ago, and was sent straight to hospital.


A childish prank

Mr Square made an earnest appeal to the Bench not to send the lads to the Assizes, pointing out that the case was one which might be dealt with by the justices. The offence he pleaded, was one committed by every small boy who lived in the neighbourhood of a railway. There was no intention to do damage to any living person. It would be the height of absurdity to send “these children” to Exeter to be tried with all the majesty of the law for a childish prank. It would be putting the county to unnecessary expense as well as placing the boys in a serious position with regard to their career.

The chairman (Colonel Swiney) said that while Mr. Square had conducted his defence very ably, they could not agree with his view. It was their duty to protect the railway companies, and they had decided to send the accused to the Assizes.

The question as to where the boys should be detained then arose.

Mr Square said that although Sergeant Cruse had treated them with great kindness, they had slept two nights in the cells, which was utterly against the spirit of the Children’s Act. He understood there was no place for detention in that petty sessional division. The captain of the ship was unable to take the boys back because of the great difficulty which would be experienced in protecting them from the other lads.

The Clerk (Mr. Wolferstan) said Mr. Square’s remarks were quite justified. The police had found it impracticable to find a place of detention in the division.

Eventually it was left for the police to arrange for the accommodation of the boys until the Assizes in October.

Western Daily Mercury  Aug 1917


I have gone through the Western Morning News looking at the assizes hearing reports but couldn’t find any reports about the derailment, this may have been because they never went to court or reporting was restricted because of the boy’s age. If anyone knows the fate of the boys or who they were please let us know.

Bruce Hunt