Croydon tram crash coroner’s inquest: Don Collett

Don Collett: 1954-2016

After the long-delayed inquest opened yesterday into the deaths of seven passengers on a Croydon tram in a derailment at Sandilands in November 2016, today was spent with family members of those who died reading prepared statements – pen portraits – to described their lost loved ones.
Tracy Angelo, Don Collett’s daughter, read this tribute to her Dad

Donald Collett, known as Don, to friends and family, or Dad to Gemma and I.

He was aged 62 at the time of his death in the tram crash. Our beautiful Dad was born on the 21st February 1954 in Lambeth, to his parents Don and Chris Collett. Dad was the eldest of three, with younger brother Joe and sister Paula. Our Dad grew up in Penge and lived in a town house that belonged to his Grandparents.

He lived on the basement floor with his Mum, Dad and Joe; the other floors were occupied by the wider family. Dad had a very close bond with his brother, for a time when they were young boys, as money and space were tight, the boys had to share a bed. Dad and Joe had a close brotherly bond throughout their lives.

Dad went to Royston School in Penge; our Nan would tell us lots of stories about Dad over the years, one that stands out in my mind was Nan would often send him to the shops with her grocery list and request that he put the shopping on to her slate. When it came to settling her bill, she would sometimes find an extra tin of biscuits added to this without her knowledge. When she asked him about the biscuits and how they arrived on her bill, it would become apparent that these had been handed out to Dad’s friends!

As Dad reached his early teens the family moved to Sydenham, where Dad’s beloved little sister Paula was born. After a year or so Nan and Granddad moved the family to Orpington.

During Dad’s mid-teens he started work with our Granddad as a trainee carpenter, though later Dad saw an advertisement for a job at Heron of Penge Petrol Station. This is where he met my Mum. After a while Dad started dating Mum and on 16th March 1974, they got married at Bromley Registry Office. After they got married Dad and Mum moved to a flat in Ashford for a short while; then managed to move back nearer wider family to a flat in Bromley.

In December 1978 Dad became a father for the first time whenthey had me. When it came to the time where Mum had to go back to work she really struggled being apart from me. This was upsetting for Dad to watch, so he told her to give up her job. So he could make ends meet, Dad took a second job, where he worked nights at London Transport as a garage hand; this is where he also achieved his driving licence for the buses.

Dad became a father for the second time in 1981, when his daughter Gemma arrived. He would always joke about being outnumbered by girls.

Throughout our childhood we have so many happy memories of our Dad and the lovely things he would do for us. We were always at the front of his mind and he made that known to us all the way through his life.

When we were little girls, Dad worked back as a carpenter with his Dad and cousin on buildings, he helped build some of the offices that now stand on Canary Wharf. There were many funny stories that came out of those days, which my sister and I could listen to for hours.

Gemma, in particular loved to watch out for Dad when it was time for him to come home from work, she would wait at the window for his motorbike to go past, and when it did she would shout to Mum that she was running round to meet Dad and before Mum could answer, Gemma would already be half way up the road to the garage where our Dad would park.

My sister and I growing up remember Dad had the most beautiful handwriting and liked drawing. He would doodle little portraits of us and we would often find them lying around.

Before he left for work in the morning, he would pop in our room to make sure we were safely tucked up warm in our beds. If he was on nights my sister and I would go downstairs in the morning to lovely sweet treats he would leave for us before he went up to catch a few hours’sleep.

Saturday mornings were our time and we used to watch cartoons together. As we grew older I would enjoy Saturday mornings cooking Dad and the rest of the family breakfast, I loved seeing the enjoyment on his face. When I moved out we all continued our Saturday morning quality time and met for breakfast at a local cafe we all loved.

Dad took a lot of enjoyment out of many hobbies through his life. He loved reading books about cars, sport: particularly boxing, wildlife and nature. I will always remember he would lay in front of the fire and read his books. He loved to watch war films, he loved the Band of Brothers box set that I got him one Christmas; he would watch it over and over again. He also loved to watch wildlife documentaries with my sister.

Dad enjoyed playing snooker with his work friends and he must have been fairly good, as I remember he would often bring home trophies over the years.

Dad was an excellent swimmer and was very graceful when it came to diving in the pool. He was in fact so good at diving that he could have potentially made a career from it. He loved swimming and would take Gemma and I as often as he could. Gemma was keen to learn to dive and Dad would help her perfect her diving for as long as she wanted to practise. Dad always loved to watch the boxing with his brother.

For one of Dad’s birthday’s my husband got tickets for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), we had a great night and since then Dad was hooked on UFC and it took over his love of boxing.

All through Dad’s life he was very hard working. He was a very fit 62-year-old, his job was manual, driving a lorry for G4S and delivering coin.

Dad had a brilliant sense of humour. I remember a story he told me back in 2012, where G4S were looking to supply security for the Olympics. Dad had told me a passer-by had shouted to him “shouldn’t you be at the Olympics” to which he replied, “My running days are over!”

At G4S my Dad made many friends and was highly regarded. Considering Dad was a very private person, it was evident how loved he was from the attendance at his funeral, the lovely stories we heard about him not only from his colleagues, but also regular customers he would drop to.

After Dad died, our family were invited to where he worked on what would have been his 63rd birthday, where they unveiled a memorial plaque in his honour.

He was of a very protective and loving nature towards his family and friends. Dad never took anything for granted and was always appreciative of the finer detail in things and how they were made. He had the most infectious laugh, which would make us laugh just by hearing him. We particularly miss the way he could give us the tightest cuddle; he would make you feel so special and loved in the way that he did this.

Our Dad and Mum sadly parted ways and Dad spent his last years of his life with Wendy, who made him very happy. Dad and Wendy went on some lovely holidays together, to France, Spain and Fuerteventura. As soon as they would get back from one holiday, Dad would already be looking forward to planning the next.

Dad and Wendy bought two cats together, Archie and Ollie, who he loved dearly. He couldn’t wait to tell us about their latest antics every time we saw him. In 2013 Dad came to Las Vegas with us so that he could walk me down the aisle on my wedding day and give me away to my Husband Matt. Dad was so proud on that day and a lot of tears were shed.

He struggled to get through his speech. I am so glad that I can look back and remember that Dad played a huge part of our special day and was part of the whole trip with family and friends. I am lucky that my Dad was able to walk me down the aisle; unfortunately my sister has had that opportunity taken away.

Dad was very proud of his three beautiful Grandsons that my sister and her partner gave him. Dad would love to see the boys when he wasn’t working and every time he returned home from each visit, he would tell Wendy how much he loved them.

I will always remember the great advice my Dad would give to Gemma and I. One of the things he would always say to us if we called him of an evening with a worry or a problem; he would tell us to sleep on it and things would always look better in the morning. Every time he would be right and I would wake up with a fresh perspective on how I would handle something, and of course he would call me to make sure I was ok.

Unfortunately though, this piece of advice has not been something that I can say is true since 9th November 2016. Things have not looked better in the morning for any of us without Dad’s smiling face in our world.

Dad very rarely complained about anything, though the one thing he did constantly tell us was how tired he was. All his life he was up extremely early or working nights, he was incredibly hardworking and should be retired now, spending time with his grandchildren, planning holidays and relaxing at home with his Wendy and two beloved cats. He also wanted to take up bowls.

He leaves three young grandsons that absolutely adored him and also now a baby granddaughter who he sadly never got to meet. Though our lives are constantly changing, the grief remains the same and my thoughts quite often now go to, one day my baby daughter will ask where her other Granddad is, how do I ever explain this… as we all know there are such devastating pictures out there for the world to see of tram 2551, from an aerial view, laying on its side.

We know that our darling, beautiful Dad was in amongst that devastation and all he was doing like the majority on that tram, was going to work, up extremely early to go and earn an honest living.

I clearly remember the Wednesday morning the terrible incident occurred. I was catching up with the early morning news and saw dreadful pictures about a tram that had derailed at Sandilands. As soon as I saw it my heart sank, as I knew our Dad got a very early tram.

As I watched the awful scenes unfold, I frantically called him, only to keep getting his voicemail. I went on to call my husband, sister and Wendy. Wendy had told me that G4S had been in touch to say that he hadn’t arrived to work. At this point we thought maybe he hadn’t charged his phone (which wasn’t unlikely) and prayed he was caught up perhaps in the tram behind 2551.

As it was approaching nearer 8.30am, we took the decision to call Dad’s work to report him missing as part of their procedures. I called round to find out about missing family in the incident. I was told that if our Dad was involved he could be at one of three hospitals.

We were told to come here, Croydon Town Hall, where we sat all day waiting to hear the whereabouts of our Dad.

We were not told much through the day and the frustration had built so much for my sister that she went to Croydon University Hospital to check beds herself. Around 4pm, I felt that it was time to tell Dad’s brother and sister that Dad was missing. We continued to wait at Croydon Town Hall, around 6pm I received a call from a mobile number I didn’t recognise. It was from the major incident team and the officer that I spoke to went on to become one of our liaison officers.

He requested to see us that evening and that they were coming from London so would be with us as soon as they could… from this call I just knew the news was going to be the worst.

When they met us at Dad and Wendy’s house, we had to go through some really painful tasks, which included reviewing an outline drawing of a human being and pointing out any distinguishing marks on Dad, in addition providing his dentist details. The days that followed were the darkest days of our lives and the waiting was unbearable, finally on the Saturday evening our liaison officers came to see us to deliver the news that we already knew, but now it started to seem real.

On the Monday one of our liaison officers called me to say I had to urgently make arrangements for Dad to be moved from the mortuary. I wanted him to be looked after in the best place I could find. Once Dad had been moved to our chosen Funeral Director, we were asked if we would like to see Dad.

We were told that there wasn’t a very long window to see him and they would assign their most experienced embalmer, to help Dad to look the best he could. We arranged for him to wear the suit he walked me down the aisle in, and the tie he wore to his brother’s wedding. We also sent his aftershave that I bought him back in the summer; he loved his aftershaves.

All of the family wanted to see him. We were told not to pull back the sheet that covered him from his shoulders down. I remember leaning over to gently kiss him. I was so scared to damage him even further.

This was one of the most painful things our family have ever had to do. During the process of the police investigation my sister and I had mouth swabs taken to provide our DNA, this would assist piece together Dad’s movements on the tram.

While this was to assist the investigation, I couldn’t help but feel like I was some sort of criminal.

To try and piece together in my mind what happened to our darling Dad we were invited to go and see tram 2551. My husband and I, Dad’s sister and brother in law went along to see this. We were shown to the window halfway down the tram where Dad had been located.

There was a large hole that first responders had to cut away in order to remove Dad without causing any further damage to his body. I always remember his sister saying to me how surprised she was to see the damage to the windows, yet the posters that lined above the windows were more or less intact.

People often ask me why on earth I would want to put myself through seeing the tram, though for me, I felt I would be ignorant of what happened to him, as he didn’t live to tell us the tale.

As time has gone on, all of the family have had to undergo intense therapy for months. The impact this has had on his brother is visible; he has since developed myoclonus, which is involuntary arm jerking, handshakes and an occasional speech impediment. He is now taking medication to help manage this. The medication he is taking suppresses emotions and negative thoughts. Joe’s suffering started on the Saturday it was confirmed that Dad had died, when he suffered a psychotic trauma seizure and as a result had to undergo a brain scan.

Dad’s partner Wendy made the difficult decision to leave her long standing career of 32 years with the same company, due to the devastating impact the tragic death of her beloved partner had on her mental health and wellbeing.

During my therapy I was treated for PTSD. My sister also had counselling.

I could go on with the trail of devastation we have had to endure over the last few years around the incident of that day. Ultimately, losing Dad has left a massive hole in our families lives. Words fail me trying to explain what the impact of losing Dad in this terrible way has had to our family, other than we all remain completely devastated and individually we will never be the same again. The hurt of still not really knowing what truly occurred on the day to so many lives that were changed forever and seven people’s lives snatched away.

Read more: No one to blame. Or no one cares? Tram crash case dropped
Read more: TfL safety audit kept secret from crash investigators
Read more: Driver of crashed tram ‘too unwell’ to give evidence at inquest
Read more: TfL considered cancelling tram contract after 2016 crash

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