Cost of seven-hour Ipswich station stand-off that plunged region into transport misery estimated at £1m
- Credit: Archant
It was a stand off that involved one man with little more than a pair of shorts and a knife, but the seven-hour drama on one of the hottest days of the year plunged 10,000 travellers into misery and cost our region an estimated £1m.
It started at about 8.20am when a 25-year-old man 'bolted' onto a roof at Ipswich station, forcing Network Rail to shut down power to the railway lines and stop trains running between Norwich and London.
And although the drama centred on just one man and the police negotiations to coax him down, the ripples spread as far as Norwich Crown Court, the Latitude Festival, and the resources of the emergency services.
Cases were adjourned because lawyers could not reach court, one of the nation's top comics missed his slot at the Latitude Festival, and people were urged not to travel unless 'absolutely necessary' into the evening.
British Transport Police said the incident was 'deeply frustrating' and defended the time it took to resolve it.
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They said the fragile roof could not bear the weight of another person and one wrong step could have made the consequences 'far worse'.
The drama started when the 25-year-old, who was wearing little more than a pair of shorts, climbed onto a roof at the station shortly before 8.20am yesterday after apparently asking staff for help in getting a ticket to Russia.
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When police were alerted, one eyewitness said he 'bolted' on to the roof.
Firefighters and paramedics were also called to help assist officers from the British Transport Police and the Suffolk force.
Power to the railway lines was turned off and the station was evacuated, with services between Norwich and London cancelled for the next seven-and-a-half hours and hundreds of passengers in limbo and unable to get to work due to cancelled services and severe delays.
Father-of-two Andy Culley, from Norwich, said the closure meant he risked not seeing his children, aged six and nine, this weekend.
Travelling back from Doncaster, where he was working, he needed to get to Harwich to pick up his children, who live with their mum.
He said: 'This could cost me a huge amount. My kids could be left thinking daddy didn't bother to turn up this weekend.
'The guy probably had a really valid reason for getting up there, but this has impacted on thousands of people.'
During negotiations, it emerged the man was carrying a retractable knife, which was seized by police when he dropped it.
A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said: 'BTP officers were called to Ipswich station following a report of a man on the roof of a station.
'Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service also attended the incident, and placed a ladder to allow the man to get down, which he refused.
'Police negotiators were called and spoke to the man for an extended period of time to encourage him to leave the roof safely, which would have allowed the station and lines to reopen more promptly.
'Specialist policing at heights officers were also deployed and, at 3.10pm, the 25-year-old man came down of his own accord via a ladder.'
An estimated 10,000 rail passengers were affected during the day, with high profile cases at Norwich Crown Court adjourned because lawyers were unable to attend, and senior civil servants due to attend a ministerial visit to Norwich Prison held up.
The disruption came on the second day of the Latitude Festival, and Liverpool Street Station was said to be littered with tents and camping chairs belonging to stranded festival-goers.
Among those delayed was top comedian Mark Watson who could not get to the venue on time.
The cost to rail operator Greater Anglia alone is estimated to run into several hundreds of thousands of pounds, and with the cost to the emergency services, lost productivity of people unable to get to work and general travel disruption, the total is expected to exceed £1m.
British Transport Police officials defended the amount of time it took to coax the man down.
The roof is thought to be made of asbestos and not very strong. Safety rules govern how workers can operate on the roof, which meant it was not possible for police to simply get on the roof and remove the man.
Superintendent Matt Allingham, of BTP, said: 'We were faced with a man in a precarious situation, some 30ft from the ground, who did not want to come down. During the incident the safety of the man, and members of the public nearby, was of paramount concern for us.
'The man was walking around areas that could not have taken the weight of more than one person. If anyone had taken the wrong step, the consequences could have been far worse.
'Power in and around the station was also turned off to preserve the safety of the man and officers dealing with the incident.'
Supt Allingham added: 'This was a difficult and deeply frustrating situation for officers, rail staff and all passengers and I'd like to thank everyone for their patience.'
A spokesman for Greater Anglia said staff advised passengers not to travel once it became clear the man was not going to leave the roof. Although the company started operating an hourly service between London and Norwich at 4pm, delays continued into the rush hour and it was still advising people into the early evening to avoid travel 'unless absolutely necessary'.