A beloved son and devoted football fan died from injuries caused by a Doncaster train accident eight years prior to his death, a court has ruled.
Gareth Needham died suddenly aged 32 at his home in Bessacarr in November. Gareth barely missed a game at his beloved Barnet FC until he was seriously injured after being hit by a train just outside Doncaster station, shortly after travelling back from watching his team draw 1-1 at Wycombe Wanderers in High Wycombe in December 2006.
Following the accident, the former McAuley Catholic High School pupil – known by many Barnet fans as ‘Donny Gaz’ – lost his right leg and was in a coma for six weeks.
And while the former forklift driver made an incredible recovery and was able to carry on with his life following the accident, his inquest heard it was the brain damage he suffered in the crash – which led to him developing frontal lobe syndrome, and later post-traumatic epilepsy – that ultimately caused his death.
Doncaster coroners’ court heard neither neurological condition was picked up prior to his death, but it was most likely a post-traumatic epileptic seizure that occurred on November 19 that ended the ‘smiley’ football fan’s life.
Pathologist Dr Michael Richmond told the court: “With severe brain injuries like Gareth’s, it can take months and years for the brain to bruise and then heal. Between 16 and 17 per cent of people who suffer a severe brain injury will develop post-traumatic epilepsy.”
Gareth was hit about 15 minutes after he had alighted from the train he had travelled on from London.
But the inquest heard he could not remember how he came to be unconscious on a single train track near North Bridge in Doncaster town centre – as the train driver reported – when he was struck.
Police were also unable to establish how he came to be there, although Det Con Andy Lehman said officers had ruled out any third party involvement, or that Gareth had jumped from the bridge.
And Graham Needham, Gareth’s father, said there was no way Gareth had been intending to take his own life.
He said: “He was very fit and healthy. In his life he was fulfilling what he wanted to. He was very happy. His beloved Barnet were top of the league and that meant everything to him.”
Ann-Marie Needham, Gareth’s mother, also ruled out the possibility Gareth ended up on the tracks because he was taking a shortcut to the Sprotbrough home of his girlfriend, Veronica Aspinall.
She said: “He had poor eyesight and was often anxious and cautious. He’d check a number of times, just to ensure he was travelling on the right train. He never would have taken a shortcut like that.”
Senior coroner Nicola Mundy, returning a narrative verdict, said: “It seems unlikely, given his cautious nature, he would have taken a risk like making a shortcut across the tracks.”
Addressing his family she said: “I’d like to pass on my deepest sympathies for your loss.”
Speaking to the Free Press shortly after Gareth’s death, Mr Needham said: “He was the best son you could ever ask for. He was just a fantastic lad.After the accident he didn’t let anything get him down. He had a fantastic sense of humour and used to say it’s just as well he lost his right leg because he was left-footed at football.”
“He always saw the positives in everything and everyone. He was always smiling, and that’s one of things I’ll always remember about him.”