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Bethan Roper inquest: Jury hears from friends

FRIENDS were sticking their heads out of the window of a train when one was killed after being struck by an overhanging tree branch, an inquest heard.

Bethan Roper, 28, suffered fatal head injuries while a passenger on the Great Western Railway (GWR) travelling at around 75mph.

Miss Roper, of Penarth, was returning home to South Wales from a day out with friends Christmas shopping in Bath.

Avon Coroner’s Court heard Miss Roper and her three friends, Elizabeth Winstone Evans, Chanelle Hagland and Madeleine Owens, had boarded the train at Bath Spa station on the evening of December 1, 2018.

The GWR London Paddington to Exeter service was using carriages fitted with droplight windows to enable passengers to use the handle on the outside when they needed to leave the train at the platform.

Investigators told the inquest that the warning label above the window, a yellow sticker with the words: ‘Caution do not lean out of window when train is moving’, was not a sufficient deterrent.

Miss Roper was fatally injured just a few minutes after the train left Bath when her head was struck by an ash tree branch growing on land adjacent to the line.

PC Kate Aldred, of British Transport Police, spoke with Miss Hagland when the train arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station shortly after the incident and made written notes of the conversation.

“The train had been travelling five or six minutes when Miss Evans opened the pulldown window of the door,” Pc Aldred said.

“Miss Evans leant her head out of the window very slightly for about 30 seconds and then said something like, ‘Girls try this’.

“Miss Evans put her head back inside the carriage and then Miss Roper has immediately stepped forward and put her head right out of the window.

“Miss Hagland was sat on the floor close to Miss Roper’s legs.

“Miss Roper’s head must only have been out for five seconds when Miss Hagland heard the sound of an impact.

“Miss Roper fell backwards towards Miss Hagland and caught Miss Roper.

“Miss Roper then fell forwards and slumped onto the floor.”

Later, Miss Hagland told police in a statement that by the time they caught the train they were not “drunk or disorderly”.

“We’ve all had a quite a few drinks but we are used to drinking like that.

“We had all sobered up by then and drunk ourselves sober,” she told officers.

Describing the minutes before the incident, Miss Hagland said they were all in the vestibule area of the train as it was busy and her friend Miss Evans pulled down the window of the door as she was hot.

“Lizzy leant her head out of the window just slightly and her hair was blowing,” Miss Hagland said.

“I think Lizzy was hot and I didn’t even know those windows go down.

“I heard Lizzy say, ‘look at this girls’ and when she pulled in Beth charged over and did exactly the same thing and she put her head out just a little bit more than Lizzy did.

“From what I can remember the shoulders were still in the carriage.

“I was just about to stand up when the branch hit her head.

“It was pretty much straight away… five seconds.

“She kind of took two steps back and stumbled and fell right into me and fell forward.”

A post-mortem examination found Miss Roper had died from head injuries.

Toxicology tests found she had a blood alcohol level of 142mg in 100ml of blood, meaning she was nearly twice the drink drive limit.

Miss Roper worked for the Welsh Refugee Council charity and was chairwoman of Young Socialists Cardiff.

The hearing continues.

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