The definitive account of the only case of its kind in Northern Ireland, the ongoing campaign for justice and a labour-of-love in memory of the victim of a murder mystery still officially unsolved after 31 years
By Keeley Moss
PART 24 - CONTENTS Chapter 65: Bristol Chapter 66: There’s a Train that Leaves Tonight Chapter 67: Preston Acknowledgements for Part 24
Today, May 28th 2019, is Inga’s birthday. She would have been 50 years of age.
Chapter 65: Bristol
Girl in the distance, moves are very hazy
To wander lonely as a puzzled anagram
Massive Attack – ‘Blue Lines’
Bristol Temple Meads is the oldest and largest railway station in Bristol, England. Inga arrived here off a train from Bath on April 5th 1988. Later that day she boarded a train that took her to Liverpool Lime Street station, where she had written in her diary, “Took a short walk through Liverpool station region”. However, in what was one of surprisingly few changes to rail network routes since 1988 that I discovered while retracing her steps thirty years later, nowadays trains no longer go from Bristol to Liverpool en route to Preston. Instead they now go via Birmingham. I had no interest in going to Birmingham as it was a long way off anywhere on Inga’s original 1988 itinerary which I was intent on replicating as faithfully and accurately as possible. So, I decided to go to Leeds instead and would try to reach Preston from there. At this point the notoriously erratic British rail network was about to throw a series of spanners in the works in time-honoured fashion. Firstly, the train I was travelling on from Bath to Bristol broke down and as a result was 20 minutes late in arriving at Bristol Temple Meads. The train driver himself described it as a “farce” over the intercom, much to the bemusement of the passengers. Then I discovered that the train that I was on my way to Bristol to connect with was set to leave on time, rather than waiting for the passengers on the delayed arrival from Bath, with the result that upon my arrival at Bristol Temple Meads I would have only seconds to get from one train to another. Even while carrying a rucksack I have very quick acceleration on my feet so given that and my natural optimism I still fancied my chances. But I did not reckon on just how large Bristol Temple Meads would turn out to be. It’s huge – the Ballypatrick Forest of train stations. And in another example of the inventive ways the British rail network finds to make life as difficult as possible for passengers who are perversely required to pay some of the highest ticket prices in the world to travel on these trains, the platform designated for the Leeds train was switched at the last minute to almost the furthest possible platform away from where the Bath train was arriving, resulting in yet more inconvenience, chaos and confusion for the bewildered passengers, of which I was one. By the time I had learned of these changes and had run the length of the underground maze that is the subway at Bristol Temple Meads all the way from Platform 13 to Platform 3, in the words of a German phrase that serves as a metaphor for missed opportunities in life, “The train has gone”. Literally, in this case.
Out of breath, I sat down in what was only one of thirteen separate platforms at Bristol Temple Meads, and tried to figure out my next move. It was now well after dark, I had nowhere to stay, I knew nobody in this part of the country, I had nothing in my possession but my wits and my rucksack…The parallels with the predicament Inga found herself in at points during the same journey were becoming increasingly eerie. My intention of making it to Preston on this night to catch the same sleeper train to Inverness that Inga had boarded all those years ago – and what’s more have somewhere, anywhere to spend the night that was relatively sheltered, appeared to lie in tatters.
But as I always say, there’s always a way – and if there’s no way, invent a way. My instinct told me to go to the ticket office and led me towards one kiosk in particular. There I spoke with a member of rail staff named Ryan, a man with a kind face and a Manchester accent. In contrast with the doom-laden Bath Spa rail staff worker Marek featured in Part 23 who had been so negative and discouraging in my hour of need, Ryan turned out to be immensely helpful. All was not lost. Although he confirmed that it would no longer be possible for me to go from Bristol to Preston via Leeds that night, after consulting the rail network computer system he found a route that would enable me to reach both Preston and Inverness. And what’s more, it could be done tonight, meaning I could board the very train that good old Marek at Bath Spa had claimed would be “impossible” for me to catch. Bizarrely however, it would entail my having to return to London. I had spent the whole day travelling halfway across the south of England travelling in the opposite direction from London – and now here I was suddenly being confronted with the news that I needed to go all the way back to the capital.
Best of all, it turned out that contrary to what I had been told in Bath Spa there were seats still available on the sleeper train after all. I was able to reserve a seat and have a detailed itinerary of the variety of rail connections printed out. The remarkable thing about this was that it’s a little-known fact that back in April 1988 Inga had to return to London after leaving there. She had gone from Harwich to London, and then after spending a couple of days sightseeing in London she moved on to Cambridge but had to return to London in order to catch a train to Oxford as there was no direct train route from Cambridge to Oxford, something that remains the case to this day. I was now faced with the strange prospect of succeeding in retracing a part of her journey that I hadn’t even intended to.
I stepped outside the station briefly to catch a glimpse of Bristol at night and also so I could catch a breath of fresh air. I wondered if Inga had done the same while she was here. If she had it seems it went unrecorded in her diary and was thus lost in the mists of time, another casualty of history. I walked back inside the station and set off to find the platform where the train to London was set to depart from. Soon I was on this train and heading to the capital – the very last place I expected to find myself travelling in the direction of when I left Oxford that morning and Bath that evening. But as John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
Chapter 66: There’s a Train that Leaves Tonight
Like a jazz refrain the midnight train is calling
Hey you’d best go soon, the late-night moon is falling
Let the nightbirds whisper to themselves
This train pulls out at twelve
Mary Black – ‘There’s a Train That Leaves Tonight’
I arrive off the train in London Paddington almost two hours later, at a little after 10pm. Stepping onto the platform I make my way through the vast station building. At this point I have to re-enter the sprawling London Underground network in order to travel from Paddington tube to Euston Square via King’s Cross. But I get off at the wrong station by travelling on to King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station instead, which necessitated waiting for a train to take me one stop back in the opposite direction. Travelling in the opposite direction once again… Upon arriving at Euston Square, I head for the exit and as I approach the doors, my eye is caught by a London Underground sign that a member of rail staff has written a quotation on in blue marker. It reads:
Oh yes, the past can hurt
But you can either run from it, or learn from it
The relevance of this quote to this backpacking trip retracing Inga’s steps, and to many aspects of Inga’s unsolved case, wasn’t lost on me.
I exit the tube network at Euston Square and take a walk through the nocturnal metropolis. A short time later I reach the entrance to London Euston where the train to Inverness via Preston – the Caledonian Sleeper – is set to depart a few minutes before midnight. As the other passengers and I are boarding the train we’re informed that the buffet car will not be joining the train due to “staff shortages”. This was the same ludicrous excuse I had heard announced over the tannoy several times over the previous two days in various train stations as the reason for entire scheduled trains, not just the buffet car, being cancelled. In all my years as a rail commuter in Ireland I have yet to see a train cancelled. The British really are getting the rawest of raw deals with their rail system.
The journey from London to Inverness by train takes twelve hours – approximately six times as long as a flight from Ireland to Spain. But I wasn’t fazed. Nor was I bothered that there were no berths remaining, which meant I’d have to try sleeping in my seat (or as it turns out, under the seat and on the floor of the train). Inga never had the luxury of sleeping in a berth; she had to make do with sleeping sitting up in her seat. If it was good enough for her, it would be good enough for me.
I clamber aboard the Caledonian Sleeper and settle into a seat as it starts to pull out from London Euston, amazed to have made it onto the train at all given the way things had unfolded earlier in Bath and Bristol where I appeared to have been left stranded both times. The interior of the train is extremely shabby. I learn that the carriages were built and fitted-out in the early 1980’s, which explains the very 80s appearance of the tattered, mustard-coloured seat covers, the very cramped seats and stained carpet. Rather than viewing this in a negative light however, I’m actually delighted – as this is presumably how it looked when Inga travelled on the same route in 1988. Within a short period of time this sleeper train will be the subject of a radical upgrade, so it’s fortuitous that I just happened to book my trip when I did. Coincidentally or otherwise, the sleeper train Inga travelled on was replaced in May 1988 by the locomotive carrying me and this one is likewise set to be replaced within weeks of my own journey.
I glance around at my fellow passengers in the carriage – to my great surprise every single one of them is already asleep. We only left London a couple of minutes ago. How the hell had all these people managed to simultaneously fall asleep in such a short time? Was that a weird thing to happen? I couldn’t be sure. I suspected it was but when strangeness becomes so commonplace, there comes a point in your life where it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between what is strange and what is normal. Because when everything is strange, strangeness becomes the new normal. Anyway, I was literally the only person awake in the entire carriage. Being a night-owl and feeling excited to travel on a ‘sleeper train’ for the first time, and simultaneously feeling wracked by the intensity of retracing Inga’s steps, it would be several hours yet before I would attempt to get to sleep. It would be a largely fruitless attempt, however. I struggle to sleep upright anyway, and the cramped and uncomfortable seats on the Caledonian Sleeper would not make that aim any easier to accomplish. But sleeping was pretty much far from my mind. I wanted to be conscious of as much of this experience as possible. I stared out the window at the fast-moving blur of regional railway stations, feeling grateful to be alive, grateful to be on this train at all.
A couple of hours into the journey my phone dies due to a lack of battery power not helped by the complete absence of plug sockets or USB inputs on board the train. This was the first of many trains I had travelled on over the previous couple of days that did not have any power sockets. And yet this train journey was going to last twelve hours. Surely it would have occurred to the powers that be that a plug socket or three wouldn’t go astray? Then again, given how everyone on the train apart from myself seemed to have been knocked out by some sort of sleeping gas perhaps the rail authorities were not exactly being inundated with requests from passengers for power sockets on the Caledonian Sleeper. A power supply for my mind was however not required. I was wide-awake, transfixed by the sights whirring past the window. Totally entranced. By thoughts and sights. Cityscapes and skylines. Tower blocks and street signs. Sleepy hamlets and suburban towns passing by in the blink of an eye. All those people living in them. All those lives. Entangled and divided yet sleeping beneath the same sky.
However due to my phone being out of battery power, and no one in the carriage being awake for me to be able to ask, I have no idea where I am. I know I’m on the Caledonian Sleeper obviously but as for roughly what part of the country we were in, I haven’t the foggiest idea as the train is moving so fast in the darkness I can’t make out the placenames on the signs at the stations the train is speeding through. I sit there transfixed, my mind running riot with possibilities, the heart heavy and haunted by her story.
Chapter 67: Preston
Some things will never wash away
Radiohead – ‘Fog’
Suddenly the train slowed, and I could make out a station sign. Stafford, it read. Stafford. Where is Stafford? Somewhere in England presumably. I couldn’t consult Google Maps because my phone was still dead. I decided it would be best to try get some sleep now. I tried nodding off in my seat but soon gave up on that. Next, I tried to fit my frame into the space between my seat and the empty seat next to me. But there was an armrest stationed between the seats that made this impossible. It was time to resort to desperate measures. I clambered down onto the floor and after manoeuvring my body underneath the seats in front of me, managed to create a makeshift sleeping quarters. Lying on the floor of the train with my right ear pressed against the carpet as I tried to rest my head I could hear and literally feel the wheels and gears of the train grinding away beneath my body as the train sped through the night along the miles of rail track. I had slept in some unusual places over the years as a musician who toured occasionally and often gigged around Ireland, but the sheer oddness of that sensation will be hard to top. Somehow, I managed to fall into a fitful slumber. There was however a reason I was determined not to sleep for long – Preston. I had to make sure I woke up when the train reached Preston. In the meantime, I tried to grab forty winks (four winks more like). After a while I came to when my body or subconscious mind sensed the train slowing to a stop. Could this be? It had to be.
“Went on to Preston”, Inga had written in her diary. She had gone there to connect with the sleeper train to Inverness and to the best of my knowledge never left the station that night. So, although she had indeed gone “on to Preston”, just as in Bristol, Liverpool and Ayr she sadly saw nothing of the place beyond the train station. And now here I was, thirty years on. I had no idea of the time, but the sky was still pitch dark, so I knew it wasn’t dawn yet, the black had yet to yield to any hue of blue. I got up and looked around the carriage – all the other passengers remained fast asleep, unlike me not one of them had stirred upon the train slowing and then stopping here in Preston. I walked along the aisle before leaving the carriage altogether, and ventured into the space between carriages, where the door is. It was then that I realised just how old-fashioned this train was (although the lack of power sockets should have been a clue). The train door was one of those ancient ones with the window in it that you have to push up and down. I pushed the window down and what I saw left me truly transfixed. Totally entranced. I saw a thick cloak of fog. The orange glow of the station’s sodium lights shimmered through it. And through the fog-flecked air of a Northern night I could make out a sign. It read:
I stood there for several minutes just staring out the window, my senses soaking up the surroundings. The North of England. In the middle of winter. In the middle of the night. The silence. The stillness.
I had to get off the train. I knew this was foolhardy. My rucksack with my passport and all my belongings in it was still on board. So was my coat. I had no idea how long the train was going to remain stopped here. Since arriving here no one had gotten on the train, nor gotten off it for that matter. Why had the train stopped here? It was the middle of the night. We’d been stopped here for at least five minutes already, for no good reason as far as I could see. As far as the eye could see. And the eyes couldn’t see far – the fog, you see. I could hardly see. But I could feel. And I felt I knew what I needed to do. I had to get off this train. I was going to do it right or not at all. I might not get back here again. I had never been here before. I had come this far. I needed to go further. Not just to Inverness, and beyond. I had to go further here. I had to stand on this platform. I had to get off this train. It must have been some time around 4am. The train could start pulling out from the station any second. If I was wandering along the platform, I’d be a goner. Or rather, the train would be a goner. And as much of an eternal optimist as I am, even I was conscious that if you’re in Preston at around 4am and the only train to Inverness goes, you are truly stranded. And if you know nobody in the entire shire and your phone is dead, and the train that has just left contains your coat and rucksack with all your belongings, being stranded would be the least of your worries. So, I knew it would be stupid to get off the train in these circumstances. Especially after the lengths I’d gone to be able to catch this train in the first place, and the way I had been very lucky not to have ended up sleeping rough in a Bristol doorway tonight. So no, forget about getting off the train Keeley. There’s no way you’re going to do that…
I opened the old-fashioned door of the train by clanking the handle and stumbled in a sleepless state onto the platform of Preston station and into the quilted mist that sat like a beautiful blanket upon the frozen stone. Suddenly there she was. In my mind’s eye.
Thirty years before she had stood here, in this very station, on this very platform, about to board this very train. Lifting her heavy rucksack onto the tired teenage shoulders that had withstood the same weight for six days. With the pair of white runners dangling from laces tied at the back all the way from Munich and still flanked by her khaki knapsack, she stood up to board this train in this station. Largely unknown and mostly unnoticed. But this meant something. Her backpacking trip meant everything to her in that moment. It was more than a trip – it was a voyage, a mission, a crusade. And the memory of it could have been lost forever. It was understandably overshadowed for decades by the horror story of what happened on the night she arrived in Northern Ireland. And the true meaning of her backpacking trip would become warped and distorted from that point on. For what had started out as her “greatest dream”, to quote Inga’s mum Almut, had become mired in murder and its ghastly aftermath. A girl all her friends knew and loved as a charismatic character, a vibrant livewire, a creative powerhouse, had been reduced to a mere totem of tragedy. Her killers leeched her life and stole her smile. And cruelly redefined all she represented while she was alive. She had gone from skilfully sketching pictures on paper to becoming a face on the paper of RUC murder posters and the subject of occasionally lurid headlines in tasteless tabloid pages.
Three decades earlier it was a different story however, on the night she stood in Preston station in the small hours of a spring morning with the rest of her life beckoning her forward and towards it. Tragically the rest of her life at that point would consist of roughly twenty-four hours. For from the time she boarded the sleeper train in Preston in the small hours of April 6th 1988 until her primary killer drove her away from Larne on the night of the same day that is sadly all she would have left.
TO BE CONTINUED
May 28th 1969 – April 6th 1988. Never forgotten.
Copyright: Keeley Moss ℗&©2019. All rights reserved.
Acknowledgements for Part 24
Blue Lines written by Thaws/Del Naja/Vowles/Marshall/Guerin/Carlton/Bennett/Scott.
Published by Universal Music Publishing Group ©1991
There’s a Train That Leaves Tonight written by Henderson/Sinnott.
Published by Dara Records ©1985
Fog written by Yorke/J. Greenwood/C. Greenwood/O’Brien/Selway.
Published by EMI Music Publishing ©2001