Abbeystead 30 years on: The people behind the tragedy

The late Pat Seed, whose husband Geoff died in the explosion.
The late Pat Seed, whose husband Geoff died in the explosion.

As the dust settled in Abbeystead, the human side of the disaster shone through.

Take Tim Eckersley, who had gone to visit the plant with his wife, Pauline, 12-year-old son Mark and brother Peter.

Mark was killed instantly in the blast and the three other family members were left fighting for their lives.

Mark’s parents were still in hospital when his funeral took place and an audio tape was made so they could listen to the service.

Tragically, Pauline never got to hear it – she died just hours later.

Tim and his brother survived and were eventually discharged from hospital.

Then there was Pat Seed, a much-loved local cancer campaigner.

Her husband Geoff was one of the water board officials who led the visit.

He was one of the first victims and Pat, who was awarded the MBE for raising more than £3.5m to fight cancer, consoled herself with raising money for the disaster appeal.

Just months later she lost her own battle with cancer.

Bert and Edna Tomlinson had been due to go on holiday to the Midlands on the day of the disaster.

But they were so concerned about the flooding of their home in St Michael’s that they postponed the trip.

Both died from injuries sustained in the explosion.

Survivors spoke of a huge ball of fire which engulfed them. Many were trapped inside, while others were thrown out into a neighbouring field.

Pat Kaylor was blown out of the entrance doorway by the force of the explosion.

“My clothes were practically all burned off and my skin was just in tatters, and I could hear everybody inside crying and screaming.”

Pat was treated at a specialist burns unit and underwent months of painful treatment. She said: “Every year I go to church to give thanks that I am still here and to remember the others.”

In a twist of fate, Albert Clayton decided to go bowling instead of on the trip to Abbeystead, savin g his life.

Mr Clayton, who died in May 2011, was at home watching the news.

The local historian had lived in St Michael’s his whole life, and helped pull the community together.

He was also part of a fundraising team which helped raise £100,000 for families affected by the disaster.