A British Airways pilot who was struck by a train after he was charged with child abuse offences "took his own life", a coroner ruled today. First Officer Simon Wood, 54, allegedly molested children in African schools and orphanages after claiming he was carrying out charity work for the airline.
He was due to appear in court last August to face separate charges of indecent assault on an eight-year-old girl and possessing indecent images of children but was found dead after being struck by a train near Potters Bar station in Hertfordshire.
Graham Danbury, Deputy Coroner for Hertfordshire, said: "I'm satisfied that, as a result of having been charged with offences, he was in a state of considerable distress which would have been understandable. He felt that his only way out was to take his own life."
Hertfordshire Coroner's Court heard that Wood, from Potters Bar, died on August 18 last year. He had been due to appear at London's Southwark Crown Court on August 30. Detective Inspector Simon Giles, from the Metropolitan Police, said officers had spoken to Wood in a car park at Heathrow Airport on July 19.
He said: "As a result of things discussed in that conversation about activity in Kenya and potentially things seen on his computer, he was arrested." Wood was charged on August 15 with indecent assaulting an eight-year-old girl and 17 offences of possessing indecent images of children, Mr Giles said.
After he was charged, Wood appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court and was released on bail with "stringent conditions" including a curfew from 7pm to 7am, the inquest heard.
Gary Mathias, fatality investigator at the British Transport Police (BTP), told the inquest that Wood's body was found on the railway line between Hatfield and Potters Bar stations. A member of staff on a First Capital Connect train had spotted a man wearing a grey hooded top and blue jeans stood two metres from the track and alerted signal staff, he said.
An hour later a passenger on another train saw a person wearing similar clothing lying on the track, Mr Mathias said. BTP officers were alerted and discovered Wood's body which had been "severely injured by a passing train", the hearing was told. No train drivers had been aware of hitting a person but CCTV images from a train had later shown a man believed to be Wood entering the track, the inquest heard.
A post mortem examination had found no medication or drugs in Wood's body, Mr Danbury said. The cause of death was given as "multiple traumatic injuries," he added. The coroner said he was "satisfied" Wood intended to kill himself and he would not "speculate" over the possible outcome of the charges the pilot faced. "I reach a conclusion that he took his own life," Mr Danbury said.
Following the inquest, Wood's family released a statement which read: "Simon's death and the circumstances surrounding it have been difficult for all concerned. We request that the privacy of the Wood family be respected at this time."
British Airways is to be sued for damages by 16 alleged victims, some of whom are still aged just eight. Lawyers representing the young girls and women who claim the pilot assaulted them said the airline bears responsibility because he carried out the alleged attacks while on stopovers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The alleged period of abuse was from 2003 to 2013, when the girls were aged five to 13, law firm Leigh Day said. Lawyer Nichola Marshall, from Leigh Day, said: "We allege that Wood was able to abuse the victims, by reason of his employment with the airline, in particular through his involvement with the airlines' community relations work.
"The schools and orphanages that our clients attended were all in receipt of charitable donations from the airline, and Wood played a key role in administering those donations, on behalf of British Airways. Our team will be travelling overseas over the coming weeks to meet with other potential victims in Nairobi and Uganda that have come forward more recently."
A British Airways spokesman said: "We were shocked and horrified to hear the allegations against Simon Wood, which appear to relate to his involvement in child-related activities entirely outside the scope of his employment with British Airways. Our sympathies are with the victims and it is disappointing that the conduct of one person has caused so much distress to the many thousands of decent people who engage in charitable works on a regular basis."
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Wood was first arrested over an indecent assault allegation in November 2001 but prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge him. It reconsidered the case in July last year after receiving new details of similar alleged offences committed overseas and apparent evidence of indecent images.
At Easter 2002, Wood was among 20 crew members from two BA flights who volunteered to spend the holiday period with the Kenyan youngsters, showering the orphanage with presents, medicines and donations raised at home. He told the Press Association, which covered the trip: "We play, sing, organise activities and generally entertain them. We become very close to the children."