The partner of a blind charity volunteer who died falling into the path of a train has described his grief at losing his “rock” and called for stations to be made safer.
Cleveland Gervais, 53, an HIV charity counsellor, died after falling from the platform at Eden Park station in Beckenham, south-east London – which had no tactile paving to indicate the edge – on February 26, 2020.
A jury at South London Coroner’s Court concluded on Tuesday (3 May) that lack of warning surface “more than minimally contributed” to his death.
Jurors also said that paramedics waited 10 minutes to treat Mr Gervais due to a delay in confirmation from the railway incident officer that the track was no longer live.
Mr Gervais, who was from Trinidad and Tobago and lived in Lambeth, used a walking stick and had 6% vision in one eye and no vision in the other.
His partner of almost two decades, Sekha Hall, remembered him as a “loving family man” while calling for stations to be made safer for disabled passengers.
Mr Hall said: “Cleveland was a kind, generous and loving family man who had incredible determination and never let his disabilities stop him from getting on with his life.
“He was always helping other people and had a great sense of humour.
“We were together for over 19 years and we loved each other very much. He was my rock and I am lost without him.
“I am grateful for the jury’s careful deliberations and welcome their findings that the lack of tactile paving, or any other adjustments for blind and visually impaired people, caused Cleveland’s death.
“Cleveland’s death was huge blow to me and all that knew him.
“I hope that from his death lessons will be learned and that rail stations will become a safer places for those with visual impairments.”
The inquest was previously told that Mr Gervais fell from platform one at 7.05pm, but it was not until 7.28pm that paramedics were able to access the track. He was removed from under the train at 7.42pm, and pronounced dead at 8pm, with his cause of death recorded as multiple injuries.
Matt Stringer, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) chief executive, said Mr Gervais’ death was not an isolated incident.
He added: “We welcome this week’s inquest as an opportunity for essential lessons to be learned, so that such a senseless tragedy never happens again. Cleveland’s death was not an isolated incident.
“We are aware of several similar occurrences where the lack of tactile paving may have contributed to blind or partially sighted people falling onto railway tracks.
“Tactile paving is not just an accessibility measure, it is fundamental to the health and safety of passengers and pedestrians. There should be no train platforms without tactile paving.”
Mr Stringer welcomed Network Rail’s recent announcement that it plans to speed up the installation of tactile paving on all British train platforms – but added this is still subject to funding from the Department for Transport.
He urged the department’s rail minister Wendy Morton to confirm the funding “as soon as possible”.
'Unacceptable that platforms are not consistently safe for passengers with disabilities'
Mr Gervais had been living with HIV for more than 30 years and was well-known in his local area according to law firm Leigh Day, which represented his partner.
Kate Egerton, solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “We have heard how Cleveland was an outgoing and sociable man who enjoyed travelling within London to meet his friends independently.
“He should have been safe to do this but his inquest this week has sadly heard that the lack of tactile paving at Eden Park station, and lack of any risk mitigation measures, made it a dangerous place for him and anyone else with visual impairments.”
She added: “It was concerning to hear that despite national guidance on tactile paving being in place since 1998, that Network Rail do not consider that they have any legal duties to install it across the network.
“While we understand that plans for installing tactile paving across the rail network have been accelerated following Cleveland’s death, it is unacceptable that platforms are not consistently safe for passengers with disabilities.”