August 12, 2020, will be a day forever etched into the memory of north-east residents.
It was a day of storms, floods and, ultimately, tragedy, that took away three of our own.
The Carmont derailment brought a wave of sadness to the region, and the community reacted the only way it knows how – rallying round the families who were hit by heartbreak.
“It started off as a depot saying ‘we should raise some money’ and it grew arms and legs,” said one person at the heart of the fundraising efforts.
They added: “It’s exceeded any expectations we had.”
We can reveal that, in the space of 17 weeks, scores of fundraisers for the families of Donald Dinnie, Brett McCullough and Christopher Stuchbury have now raised a total of £142,200.
Tragedy felt across the railway family in the UK and beyond
The outpouring of support wasn’t confined to the north-east, nor just Scotland, as grief was felt throughout the UK and beyond.
Some 320 miles away on the Fylde Coast in England, rail worker Dave Downey heard about the crash and acted almost immediately.
The Northern Rail employee, from Blackpool, set up a Go Fund Me page online within hours of the tragedy.
When promoting the idea, Mr Downey said: “We are a railway family, let’s help out the driver’s family and the conductor’s family.”
It has since raised £13,428, with hundreds donating.
Those funds were handed over to a joint fund administered by industry trade unions the RMT and Aslef.
Another to get involved was Edinburgh-based train driver Allan Bence, who designed a badge, which he has posted to hundreds of people from across the UK in exchange for a donation.
The badge contains the date and location of the derailment and the design is a red heart, broken down the middle.
Mr Bence said: “The morning of the tragedy was significant for my family because it was the anniversary of my younger brother’s death.
“He was only 19 years old at the time. It was a car crash.
“There were five in the car and my brother was in the back. He didn’t have a seatbelt on because it wasn’t mandatory back then, in 1993. He was the only one who was killed.
“Because of that experience, I knew how the victims’ families would be feeling.
“I had said to my wife on that day that a sixth sense was telling me ‘you’ve got to do something (productive)’ and then when I found out about the derailment I decided on the badges.
“I’ve been on the railways for 35 years, working for British Rail, then ScotRail and now Cross Country. You meet a lot of people in that time and the railway is like a family.
‘I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘oh God, what’s happened?’
“I travel the Carmont route sometimes twice or three times a week.
“I had been speaking to Donald three or four weeks previous. Usually, I’m on one of the ScotRail trains when I travel into work, when he would be working as a conductor.
“I would meet Donald and we would usually talk about golf. We would just have a good laugh and a good blether over the years, often at Edinburgh Waverley or at Dundee.
“I found out about the crash when a friend posted a picture of Donald on Facebook with the word ‘RIP’. I couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘oh God, what’s happened?’.
“I’d never designed a badge previously, but the idea for the design came to me within minutes, the idea of a broken heart.
“I’ve sold over 350 badges and all the postage expenses are out of my own pocket. That is my way of giving back.
“Many people have contacted me to say what a good thing it is, but I just see it as showing support for the families.
“I contacted Donald’s daughter Christina and asked if she would like some badges for her family and have sent her some. I’d like to do the same for the other two families.”
Allan is now in touch with the McCullough family after we let them know of his efforts.
His appeal has so raised £4,212 and demand has been so high, Allan has had to produce a second batch of badges.
Badge designer George Erwin also designed a badge – sales of which have topped the £20,000 mark.
The RMT also commissioned a badge, which includes the train’s code – 1T08 – and a red broken heart.
“It also includes red and white – a nod to Donald Dinnie supporting Aberdeen Football Club,” said one RMT representative.
They added: “On top of that, we’ve had donations from 220 RMT branches, from Penzance to Inverness.”
‘We wanted to help any way we could’
The tragedy particularly impacted on Stonehaven.
The town prides itself on its unity, demonstrated through its community groups such as the Stonehaven Reds supporters club of Aberdeen FC.
Member Kevin Murray said: “I was in my work’s office. I’d had to battle my way through the floods to get to work and then heard the terrible news. I just couldn’t believe it.
“We’re all pretty close friends in the club. It’s a brilliant bunch of lads. We wanted to help any way we could.”
An online collection started by Kevin on behalf of the club has so far raised £8,636.
Mr Murray added: “It’s astounding. I was expecting £1,000.
“The community response has been unbelievable. All I did was set up the fundraising page, it’s those who contributed who deserve the credit.
“The families may not want the money. They may want to donate it to charity. It’s completely up to them.
“I do plan to go through the donations and thank everyone individually.”
The Stonehaven Reds appeal was shared far and wide on social media, and promoted in the Evening Express and Press and Journal.
Stonehaven-based caterer Platter donated a weekend’s worth of trading profit.
A company spokeswoman said: “It’s not a huge sum of money, and it isn’t about publicity, it’s just trying to do something for the families.”
She added: “Coronavirus has been an awful time but one good thing to come out of it is people helping others.
“There’s been a real sense of community and the derailment is another example of how tragedy often brings out the best in people.”
Tragedy ‘struck a chord with everyone in Aberdeen and across Scotland’
Union Square Shopping Centre, next to Aberdeen Rail Station, pledged £500.
Its business support manager Andrew Boakes said: “This tragic accident has struck a chord with everyone in Aberdeen and across Scotland.
“Staff at Union Square were keen to donate to do what we can to get behind this cause and help the affected families in some small way.”
There was also a £1,000 donation from Carlisle-based rail freight company Direct Rail Services, whose managing director Chris Connelly told us: “The railway is like a family and we were all deeply moved by the tragic incident at Carmont.
“We wanted to support the families in any way we could during this unimaginably difficult time and our thoughts and best wishes go out to them.”
The Rotary Club of Alford and District also handed over £200.
RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash called the Stonehaven Reds collection “a great gesture of community solidarity which shows the impact the tragedy had on the local community.”
He added: “We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.
“The (£142,200) will go into the fund we have set up jointly with Aslef and will be split equally between the families of the union members and the passenger who lost their lives at Stonehaven. They will never be forgotten.”
Explaining why the tragedy had struck such a chord across the country, Aslef’s organiser in Scotland Kevin Lindsay said: “We’ve got a lot of young drivers and a lot of young rail staff in Aberdeen.
“They are going to need support because they’ve never dealt with anything like this.
“The emotional stress people (who work on the railways) are facing in Aberdeen is huge.
“We’re fortunate the UK railway is the safest in Europe.
“These incidents don’t take place an awful lot but, when they do, they have a huge impact on people.”
He added: “People are devastated across the country. The joint fund we have put in place with the RMT is made up of donations from ordinary men and women on the railway putting their hand in their pocket.”
The sentiment was echoed by Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA rail workers’ union, who told us: “Our railways are a family so it was very deeply felt with our entire membership, whether they worked in Land’s End or John O’Groats.
“I went up to Scotland following the incident and I met with some of those who were involved in what sadly became a rescue operation.
“Clearly everyone was very emotional and very saddened for what had happened.
Railway family coming together as one
“I spoke to someone who knew Donald Dinnie. It was very close to home and people felt very saddened by it and shocked.”
Mick Hogg, Scottish RMT organiser, said: “It was an absolute tragedy.
“It is incredibly sad that lives were lost. These types of tragedies are rare but, when they do happen, the railway family comes together as one.”
One RMT fundraiser told us: “We’re truly humbled by everyone’s efforts – from the person who handed us £2 and said ‘I can’t afford any more’ to someone like Dave Downey who has raised £13,000 in a short space of time.
“All of these people have been absolutely fantastic.”
They added: “We have to be respectful of the families.
“We’re not sure if they’re aware of the enormity of something that started off small.”
Those close to the families have also raised funds.
Dawn Bennett, a friend and neighbour of Brett McCullough’s parents, chose a fundraiser inspired by Brett, who ran the London Marathon for 2012 in aid of the British Heart Foundation.
Brett’s sister Salina spoke of her pride at him crossing the finish line and added: “He joked it was his diet of beer and fish and chips that got him through the 26-mile run.”
Ms Bennett decided to follow in his footsteps as best as she could under Covid-19 restrictions, walking 26.2 miles on the day of this years’ London Marathon, while wearing Brett’s picture.
Despite nursing an injury and fighting through testing weather conditions, Ms Bennett reached her goal and raised a total of £1,149, to be split between London-based Romney House Cat Rescue, the National Autistic Society and Kent-based Second Chance Animal Rescue Crockenhill.
Afterwards, Mr McCullough’s sister Salina McCullough said on Facebook: “Thank you for this incredibly special tribute to Brett. I will never forget it.”
‘Donald Dinnie – just look at the number of people who loved you’
The Dinnie family launched their own fundraiser in aid of the Scottish Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA).
Donald’s daughter Christina chose the organisation because her father used to support SCAA with a monthly Direct Debit donation and because SCAA sent both its air ambulances to the scene.
Christina said many people contacted the family to ask if they could send flowers, and she suggested they instead make a donation to SCA.
Christina added: “The air ambulance was present at the rail incident, as were many other many services. As a way to say ‘thank you’ to them for all they did, it seemed right in supporting such a good cause as this.”
More than 500 people responded to Christina’s appeal, raising a total of £8,600.
She said: “I cannot believe how much more has been raised in memory of dad.
“Donald Dinnie – just look at the number of people who loved you.
“Thank you to every single person who has taken the time to donate to such an amazing cause.
“Dad – you were one in a million and we love you so much. Keep smiling on us all.”
SCAA’s chief executive David Craig told us everyone associated with the charity had been moved by the family’s actions.
He added: “This generous donation will help ensure SCAA is available to fly to those most in need, as we were the day Donald was killed in such tragic circumstances.
“The condolences of everyone at SCAA go with our deepest thanks.
“The Dinnie family found a way of giving emotionally to the charity at probably the lowest time for them.
“They were thinking about SCAA simply because Donald was a supporter of the charity.
“We are extremely grateful to the family for supporting us, just as we are to the general public.”
The charity launched almost eight years ago and has since raised around £30 million.
It has two helicopters, based in Perth and Aberdeen, with the latter being launched April backed by a massive fundraising drive from the Press and Journal.
Around 85% of incidents it is called to are 999 calls and its aircraft can reach 90% of the Scottish population within 25 minutes.
It needs more than £4 million a year to keep going – all from public donations, business support and grants.
Mr Craig said: “We were called out to that very tragic incident that day. Both our aircraft were there in Stonehaven.
“The crew are highly skilled and have years of training, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier for them if it’s particularly difficult or challenging, when there may not have been a positive outcome. All those things go through your head.
“I can’t begin to comment on what was going through the mind of any emergency service worker for that type of incident.
“We’ve seen the pictures of maybe how challenging that type of incident was.
“The only thankful thing was the number of people who were on the train at the time.
“It could have been far greater if we weren’t in a lockdown situation.”
He added that the emergency response involved all emergency services and was something they spent many years planning for
“They hope they never have to use it. These incidents are thankfully very few and far between.”
The charity’s air ambulances are a lifeline to the north-east given its rural nature.
Mr Craig said: “People can see the importance of the service, particularly for those very remote areas in the north and north-east of Scotland, which is one of the reasons we launched our second air ambulance in April this year in Aberdeen.
“In emergency incidents, you could be a good 40 minutes from a major trauma centre such as an in Aberdeen.
“When you need rapid medical care, those minutes can sometimes be the absolute difference between life and death.
“We bring paramedic care to the scene of an incident, and very quickly make an assessment and get them transferred to the most appropriate hospital.”
As most charities have, SCAA has seen a reduction in its fundraising income in recent months due to fewer events taking place as a result of social restrictions.
But Mr Craig said supporters have been finding ways round it, holding virtual events or getting sponsored for solo feats.
He added: “Our fundraising efforts – what would be a traditionally busy period between March and October – have been curtailed because of coronavirus but that community support is hugely vital for is in these testing times.
“People can support us in small ways, such as signing up to our lottery online, which is £1 a week, or if they go to a petrol station, they can donate by doing a quick tap of their card, donating maybe 25p or 50p.”
Family invited to meet those who tried to save Donald
Mr Craig said SCAA has invited the Dinnie family to meet those who tried to save him.
He added: “We have certainly extended an invitation to them, to come to the base in Aberdeen when restrictions allow and when they feel the time is right for them, because they are probably still grieving and there is an ongoing inquiry that they may want particularly answers from. That is an open invitation.
“We do that with a lot of people who have given to us in such an emotional way.
“That very close connection with the crew and our supporters is hugely important because they can talk about what they face every day.
“It is always a humbling thing for the crew that families often want to come in and say ‘thank you’.
“You could have someone who has spent 25 years being a paramedic attending hundreds of incidents, but it never fails to emotionally move them when someone comes in after a very difficult callout, which may not have resulted in a positive outcome and they just want to come in and say ‘thank you’.
“They are grateful for people saying that and also very grateful for those who want to support the service that they provide every single day.”
Visit scaa.org.uk/donate to find out how you can support the charity.
Brett’s sister Salina told us: “The kindness and support of people far and wide has been overwhelming.
“The badge that Allan Bence created isn’t just a badge, it represents the high esteem in which Brett, Donald and Chris were held, and the love and kindness shown to the families.
“Strangers from other parts of the world have come forward to me to offer their support, former railway employees, musician Brian May (who had met Brett while travelling by train), people as far away as Australia who have visited Scotland on vacation.
“I take comfort in knowing that people care deeply about what happened, and most certainly care about the outcome of the investigations.”
With her thoughts on how the £142,200 raised by the public could be spent, Christina Dinnie told us: “As soon as we found out what was happening we always had plans of donating that money to charity.
“We also wanted to look into some sort of memorial piece for dad in Aberdeen so all his friends and family had somewhere to go and remember him.”