Trainspotters at war

North Yorks Moors Railway Wartime Weekend opens on Friday, at Pickering Station. Loco Sir Nigel Gresley arrives into Pickering Station. Picture by Andrew Higgins  084184x  10/10/08
North Yorks Moors Railway Wartime Weekend opens on Friday, at Pickering Station. Loco Sir Nigel Gresley arrives into Pickering Station. Picture by Andrew Higgins 084184x 10/10/08

A TRAIN enthusiast sent poison pen letters threatening to bomb a railway and harm passengers - to blacken the name of a fellow fanatic.

Leeds Magistrates Court heard that Mr Cawthorne, of Leeds, who had a “life-long love” of railways, carried out his bizarre harassment campaign to smudge the reputation of Mr Lake, a volunteer at the railway.

Fellow enthusiast and freelance photographer Nicholas Cawthorne began his campaign of hate against volunteer train engineer David Lake in February of this year shortly before his father Dennis died of gastric cancer aged just 75.

David was arrested on two occasions and even former gardener Dennis, who was in the last stages of his life, was taken into custody on suspicion of penning the threatening letters.

David: “To this day I’m baffled as to why he did this to me. He knew how hard I was finding it looking after my father full time and he made the decision to make my life so much harder.

“Nicholas and my father would meet up a couple of times a week for a few drinks, they were really close. When the police turned up at the house for the first time in February it nearly finished my father off. I’ve no idea why Nicholas would do such a thing - particularly giving that he knew my father’s condition.

“They used to work together on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and had been good friends for a lot of years.

“I knew Nicholas through my work as an engineer on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. He was a real enthusiast and used to come to take pictures. I didn’t know him well enough for him to have a vendetta against me though.

“I’ve been arrested twice and had to suffer the indignation of being put on bail. What have I done to this man to make him want to treat me like this? The whole thing nearly finished my father off as he had a lot of health problems along with his cancer.

“It was only rarely that the two of us spoke but clearly he had some problems with me. I’m just glad my father didn’t live to find out that it was his close friend who was responsible for all the anguish the pair of us had to go through in the months leading up to his death.”

Prosecutor Marie Austin-Walsh said that some of the letters - sent in February and March this year - were directed against management.

“Some of them are threatening and abusive, some of them make threats to harm passengers and one refers to a bomb being placed on the railway,” she told the court. “None of them were taken seriously by the railway or the police to the degree of any immediate action being taken. The police seem to have formed the opinion that, in their words, the letters were written by some sort of crank.”

Mr Lake was arrested as a result of the letters, but denied he had written them and was released on bail.

He was then re-arrested after Cawthorne sent more letters in his name.

Cawthorne was unmasked as the real letter-writer after he sent more correspondence to the company in his own name complaining about Mr Lake.

Ms Austin-Walsh said: “In the letters he describes concerns about Mr Lake, saying he shouldn’t be working there and they should get rid of him. He said Mr Lake was insulting people there. These were all false allegations.”

Police arrested Cawthorne after matching his fingerprints and DNA to the earlier threatening letters - while a handwriting expert said the letters must have been written by the same person.

Ghazanfar Iqbal, mitigating, said his client had never been in trouble before and was deeply embarrassed.

He added that Cawthorne, who pleaded guilty to harassment, lives with his parents and suffered a breakdown at the time.

“He understands the impact this has had on Mr Lake and wants to apologise to him. This is a lifelong love of his and something he realises he won’t be able to return to.”

Cawthorne was handed an indefinite restraining order banning him from contacting Mr Lake or North Yorkshire Moors Railway staff, or travelling on the railway.

He was also given a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, 100 hours of unpaid work and was ordered to pay Mr Lake £500 in compensation as well as court costs of £85.