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Driver who died after stopping his car in front of a train in Palgrave had a history of mental illness, court hears

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Suffolk Coroners Court
Suffolk Coroners Court

A man who died after driving his car into the path of a main line train had

suffered mental health issues for many years, an inquest has heard.

Michael Howsen, 54, died from multiple head, neck and chest fractures

in the incident at Palgrave level crossing, near Diss, on September 29 last


The inquest today (Monday) at Suffolk Coroners Court in Ipswich heard

that Mr Howsen's car became trapped beneath the front of a 90mph

train which took a mile to come to a halt.

Mr Howsen, of Chapel Close, Fressingfield, had just over an hour earlier

missed being struck by another train when he drove onto a level crossing

at Mellis.

In phone calls to his daughter shortly before the Mellis near-miss,

Mr Howsen sounded slurred, his mood seemed low and he said that he had

"had enough".

The inquest heard that Mr Howsen, a self-employed excavator driver, had

been prescribed medication after being diagnosed with paranoid

schizophrenia but had recently stopped taking it, telling his GP that he felt

better and was not experiencing any symptoms.

However, three days before her father's death, his daughter said his mental health appeared to have deteriorated and had had phoned her to say he was trying to "find the scousers who are out to get me."

Assistant Suffolk Coroner Dr Daniel Sharpstone said his daughter had

tried to reassure her father and explained that what he believed was

happening was all in his mind.

On September 29, Miss Howsen was in Norwich when her father called to

say he was in the car park of the Railway Tavern at Mellis. When she

called the pub, staff told her that a car had narrowly missed being struck

by a train.

Miss Howsen drove from Norwich and after contacting Network Rail was

told about the Mellis near-miss and that a car matching the description of

her father's had been struck by another train at Palgrave.

Assistant Coroner Dr Sharpstone said examination of Mr Howsen's mobile

phone records showed he had called a mental health support team shortly

before his death but their office was closed. He had also made a brief call

to the Samaritans.

In a statement, train driver Adrian Harris said he had passed the Mellis

crossing at a reduced speed after being alerted to the earlier near-miss and

had resumed normal 90mph speed as he approached the crossing at


After seeing a silver coloured car stopped on the opposite track, Mr Harris

sounded the train horn and then saw the car move across into his path as he

applied emergency braking but an impact could not be avoided.

British Transport Police who investigated the collision said no note written

by Mr Howsen was found at the scene or at his home.

The Coroner said: "It is clear that Michael Howsen had a significant history

of mental illness, in particular paranoid schizophrenia, and it appears that his

mental health was deteriorating up to the time of this incident.

"It appeared from messages to his daughter that he had 'had enough'."

Dr Sharpstone recorded a conclusion that Mr Howsen died as a result of

a road traffic collision caused by him deliberately stopping his car in front

of a train.

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