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West Malling train death of Gary Cook ruled as suicide

By Alan Smith

A former retained firefighter who stepped in front of a train deliberately took his own life, an inquest jury has decided.

Gary Cook, aged 67, stepped off Platform 1 at West Malling Station into the path of the 14.46 Ashford to Cannon Street train, on May 17, last year after experiencing delusions he was seriously ill and would be a burden to his family.

A jury of six women and five men reached their verdict after hearing two days of evidence at the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone.

Gary Cook, from Larkfield, retired as a retained firefighter in 2003

Gary Cook, from Larkfield, retired as a retained firefighter in 2003

The inquest was told Mr Cook from Falcon Green, Larkfield, had been a voluntary patient at Priority House, the mental health care unit of the Maidstone and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, after slashing his wrists three weeks earlier.

Dr Anath Puranik, the consultant psychiatrist for senior patients at The Orchards ward where Mr Cook was staying, said that Mr Cook had “bizarre” anxieties about abdominal pains that he said he was experiencing.

These had been investigated over several months by doctors in both the private sector and the NHS, but although a full range of medical tests had been carried out, no medical explanation of the cause had been found.

Dr Puranik said that nevertheless Mr Cook remained convinced that he had a serious illness and that he could become a burden to his family.

Dr Puranik said that in that sense Mr Cook was delusional.

Police at West Malling Station on the day of Mr Cook's death

Police at West Malling Station on the day of Mr Cook's death

He confirmed that Mr Cook was considered to be at risk and was subject to 10-minute observations on the ward, but as part of his therapy he was allowed out in the company of either staff or family members.

Mr Cook had been co-operating with his health care programme and taking his medication and had appeared to be making some progress.

He has spoken of a desire to return to his newly renovated flat and had spoken on taking family holidays. He had not stated any intention to commit suicide.

Because the coroner Patricia Harding deemed Mr Cook to have been de facto in the care of the Maidstone and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, even though he was a voluntary patient, she had appointed ahead of the inquest an independent expert to assess the care he received. The expert found no failings on the part of the trust.

Earlier this week, the jury heard Mr Cook had been caught on the station's CCTV parking his Mazda pick-up in the car park and entering the station where he examined the train information boards on both platforms before briefly returning to his vehicle.

The inquest was heard at the Archbishops' Palace in Maidstone

The inquest was heard at the Archbishops' Palace in Maidstone

He then went back onto the platform and stood at the far end until the train pulled in.

In a statement read out in court, train driver Richard Crump said his attention was drawn to Mr Cook as his train entered the station because he was standing in a “very regimented way” as though standing to attention.

Mr Crump was already braking the train for the stop, but said there was a brief moment when the two exchanged eye contact. Mr Cook then walked across the platform and stepped off onto the track. Mr Crump braked harder, but couldn’t avoid the impact.

Mr Cook died at the scene from multiple injuries.

Detective Constable Paula Bennett said Mr Cook’s shoes, mobile phone and a biro pen had been found on the platform.

In his car was a notebook with the word “sorry” written on it.

After interviewing other witnesses, police were satisfied no third party had been involved.

Mr Cook retired as a retained firefighter in 2003. He had worked at the New Hythe Lane fire station for 21 years.

Mr Cook’s widow Jill, son Darren and twin brother John attended the inquest.

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

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