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Transport and logistics

‘Doomsday preacher’ causes chaos on London Tube after terrified commuters take him literally

Man quotes from Old Testament, but passengers misinterpret his intentions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 11:05pm

Hundreds of thousands of London commuters experienced major disruption during rush hour on Monday morning after passengers fled from a train and spilt on to the track in terror of a “Doomsday preacher” who was quoting the Old Testament.

The incident, which took place at about 8.30am just outside Wimbledon station on a South Western Railway train running from Shepperton to Waterloo, forced Network Rail to switch off power in the area, causing long delays.

Ian O’Sullivan, 42, who was in the same carriage as the preacher, said the man with a rucksack began reading extracts from the Old Testament, when the train stopped at a red light outside the southwest London rail station.

“He was quite well spoken and calm,” he said. “He said: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about something and that something is the word of the Lord, Jesus Christ. He’s here to heal your sins. The Bible tells you that homosexuality is a sin and sex before marriage is a sin. You need to repent’.”

Other passengers said the man referred to “doomsday” and the afterlife.

O’Sullivan, a marketing consultant, said he did not find the man threatening, but people started pushing and shoving, with another passenger warning the man that he was scaring people.

“It suddenly became a Chinese whisper and [there was] panic,” he said. “It was quite a full train, but the area around him was suddenly quite empty.”

Some people prised open the doors and went on to the tracks.

O’Sullivan said the train’s guard came over the public address system asking people what they were doing on the tracks and warning them that they could die if they touched a rail.

“We could hear a woman [outside] saying there’s a man and he’s going to kill everybody,” he said. “But everybody in the carriage said he never said that.”

He said the guard came to the carriage, spoke to the now “sheepish” man and searched his bag, but found only a water flask and books.

“The guard did a brilliant job of trying to keep things under control,” O’Sullivan said. “He established pretty quickly that there wasn’t a threat.”

When the train eventually got to Wimbledon station, British Transport Police officers questioned the man, but he was not arrested. O’Sullivan said a number of passengers offered to vouch for the man, insisting that he had not threatened anyone.

A Network Rail spokesman said the incident caused significant delays. “Passengers self-evacuated off a train and on to the tracks at Wimbledon this morning after a passenger incident. British Transport Police are investigating and there were no injuries to passengers or staff,” he said.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, which is balloting South Western Railway members on whether to strike in a dispute over guards on trains, also praised the guard’s response.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “Panic could have broken out but for the guard’s calm and measured response. This was a packed passenger train at the height of the rush hour. It illustrates just why RMT members are fighting so hard to keep the guard on South Western Railway services.”

The incident was compounded by a points failure outside Waterloo, which caused platforms seven to 11 to be shut temporarily.

South Western Railway also reported delays due to overrunning engineering work between Castle Cary and Yeovil Junction.

Southern, Gatwick Express and Thameslink services were also delayed because of overrunning engineering work.