Schoolgirl Slipped To Her Death

11 September 2012, 17:51 | Updated: 11 September 2012, 18:06

An inquest has heard how a private schoolgirl from Berkhamsted lost her balance and fell onto a train.

A private schoolgirl who had trouble getting off to sleep fell from a bridge onto a moving train after going out to burn off energy.

Pretty Zoe Miller, 13, was a bundle of energy and often went out late at night to "skip and run" when she found sleeping difficult.

She had been born and raised in South Africa and, after returning to this country, kept up the practise of going out barefoot.

Today an inquest into her death heard how late on the night of Sunday April 22 this year Zoe, who was living with her family in Berkhamsted, Herts, slipped out of the back door and into her garden.

From there she made her way into a road opposite and onto a single track road bridge spanning the West Coast rail line as it ran through the town.

The inquest at Hatfield, Herts was told that a set of metal railings leading up the parapet of the bridge were examined and on them were found footprints left by Zoe's bare feet.

Just before midnight she had been standing on the parapet of the bridge when a southbound train heading for Euston passed underneath at 60 miles per hour.

In darkness, and disorientated by the noise and rush of air, she lost her balance and fell onto the train with tragic results.

The Deputy Coroner for Hertfordshire Graham Danbury recorded a verdict that Zoe had died accidentally.

Zoe lived with her parents Jane ,46, and scientist father Bob, 48, along with her sister Sam, 11, in George Street, Berkhamsted. The family had returned to the UK in the summer of 2011. She was born in South Africa and brought up in Nigeria and Zambia.

The court heard the lively teenager enjoyed and from time to time experienced difficulties in going to sleep at night. When that happened her family had become used to her going out at night to turn off energy in the back garden or even further afield. She would be barefoot, harking back to her days in Africa.

Detective Inspector Andy Rose of British Transport Police told the inquest Zoe had been standing on the parapet of the Ivy House Lane bridge when the southbound train passed underneath at around 11.45pm that night.

Having gone under the bridge the driver of the train immediately noticed there was a loss of power and it came to a halt. The problem appeared to right itself and the train continued on its journey to London.

The following morning at 6am the driver of a northbound train passing under the bridge spotted Zoe's body lying across a track. He reported it his superiors and another train stopped at the bridge to protect the scene.

At the same time Zoe's parents woke to discover their daughter missing and the back door to the house, which had been locked the previous night, was closed but not locked.

DI Rose told the court: 

"Zoe was not a good sleeper and it was not unusual for her to go out late at night and run around. She had a considerable amount of energy and it was not uncommon for her to skip, run and burn off energy."

The inquest heard Sunday April 22 was the last day of the Easter school holidays. The following day she was due to return to the all girls private Abbots Hill School in Hemel Hempstead where she was a popular pupils with many friends.

On Sunday she had completed a homework project and spent time with her best friend at her home.

That night her mother Jane, who works for the Department of International Development as a Senior Health Advisor for Africa, and her American husband told their daughter to get to bed for school the next morning.

Zoe's bedroom was downstairs in the house and after hearing more noise the parents told her more forcibly to get to sleep.

Shortly afterwards Zoe slipped out into the garden and made her way to the bridge. Her footprints had been found on a set of metal railings leading up to the bridge and it would have been an easy step up onto the parapet.

DI Rose said: 

"It is a very dark area. I would imagine a train passing underneath at speed would be very disorientating."

Subsequent investigations revealed the youngster had fallen onto the train at around 11.45pm the previous evening.

Listening to the inquest were Zoe's parents. Bob Miller sat with his arm around his wife's shoulder throughout.

The coroner was told Zoe's laptop and mobile phone had been examined along with her diary. Nothing was found to indicate any problems. The inspector said the last entries in her diary had been "happy and upbeat."

Recording the accidental death verdict, the Deputy Coroner said: "From what I hear it would not be unusual for Zoe to slip out for a while because she might have difficulties in going to sleep. That seems to be the way of things and she would do so barefoot."

He said Zoe had gone out that night to burn off some energy and had made her way to the bridge, climbing up onto the parapet as the train approached.

The coroner said: 

"A train approached at speed and I think it had a disorientating and disturbing effect on someone standing on the parapet."

Unhappily, he said, she had lost her footing and fell onto the train with tragic results.