DREADFUL news this week about the Essex runner killed in a freak accident while running through a wheat field with a group of his clubmates.
Tuesday evening’s tragedy has shocked the running community, particularly those of us who have spent many hours in recent weeks running through similar fields in similar circumstances, either in trail races or out on training spins.
Forty-one-year old James Kew was leading a group from Saffron Striders on a training session in Tuesday’s late evening sunshine. They were following a quiet cross-country route close to Saffron Walden and the neighbouring village of Newport. An enjoyable run ended in tragedy when James suffered catastrophic burns after apparently coming into contact with a live electrical cable that was damaged and hanging low over a wheat field.
Not only was he killed, but a fire started in the surrounding crop in front of his shocked running partners as they tried to go to his aid. The accident happened around 8.45pm and paramedics were quickly summoned and arrived at the scene a mere seven minutes later.
Two of the other runners needed treatment for electric shocks or burns, but nothing could be done for James who was pronounced dead at the scene. It is thought his coming into contact with the cable had completed a circuit with the ground which involved 11,000 volts. Arrangements to cut off the power were made and crews would remain at the scene well into the early hours of the next day.
The news will horrify all local runners, but it was particularly stunning for me because I used to run across the very same fields during the four years I lived in Saffron Walden. I know the area well and remember it as a scenic and tranquil setting, superb for off-road running where muntjac deer were often the only other form of life you would see for miles.
Investigations are said to be underway into how the cables came to be in their dangerous position. It was reported that a large group of walkers had noticed the danger about two hours earlier that same evening and had expressed concerns.
James had been two days short of his 42nd birthday and was one of the best runners from that part of Essex. He recently came second in the Eight Bells Trail Race, finished high in the field at the Hatfield Broad Oak 10k, and on his marathon debut clocked a remarkable 3hrs 05mins at the Virgin London Marathon as well as raising a four-figure sum for charity.
He had a high-powered job as a biologist in the research department at GlaxoSmithKline, having joined the Centre of Excellence for External Drug Discovery (CEEDD) in 2010 as a Director of Biology. He signed up with Saffron Striders around the same time and was also a hockey player.
Saffron Striders chairman Nigel Coates described James as a quiet, unassuming and very popular member of the Striders. He would be deeply missed and everyone at the club was devastated by Tuesday’s tragedy, said Nigel.
On Wednesday morning an area of the field, about half-a-mile from the nearest road, was cordoned off and police still stood guard. Pieces of cable were still visible laying in the field and only two of the usual three power cables hung overhead. There were signs of a small fire in the crop. Police have launched a joint investigation with the Fire and Rescue Service and the Health and Safety Executive has been informed.
This horrendous episode is a salutary reminder to all of us that danger can lurk in the most unexpected of places. We gallivant across the fields in the knowledge that, for the most part, off-road running is a far safer option than its equivalent on busy roads. And apart from the odd twisted ankle, mosquito bite or navigational issue, we usually return to our starting point in one piece, tired but invigorated.
I suspect it will be quite some time before the members of Saffron Striders can fully enjoy the simple pleasures of trail running again, however. Sincere commiserations to all friends, relatives and clubmates of James Kew.
* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s published books about running at: www.robhadgraft.com