LONDON, ENGLAND — Metal wires in the brassieres of two Thai friends who were struck by a massive bolt of lightning while taking shelter beneath a tree may have acted to conduct the charge to their hearts.

Both women, Westminster Coroner's Court heard yesterday, had burn marks on their chests, near the left cups of their underwired bras and in the region of their hearts.

The two were enveloped by a massive electrical discharge which killed them instantly.

Paul Knapman, the Coroner, said in his experience of 50,000 deaths, it was only the second time he had encountered a situation where lightning had struck metal in a bra. "But I do not want to overemphasise any significance to this and I express my sympathy to both families. It is a tragic case, a pure act of God."

Dr Knapman recorded a verdict of misadventure on the two women, Anuban Bell, 24, of West Kensington, and Sunee Whitworth, 39, a mother of two from Stoke Newington. The court heard that the two women, who had decided to spend a few hours shopping in central London, lay dead for up to 16 hours in Hyde Park before the alarm was raised.

Two passers-by, the court was told, had seen the women lying on the ground near the rose garden in the park early on the evening of Wednesday, September 22, but had not reported the sightings, thinking they may have been on drugs or taking a nap.

Samantha Clout, a recruitment consultant, said that she had first seen the two women as she walked home from work through the park. One had her arms raised across her chest as though something had frightened her, she said.

The two women lay dead for up to 16 hours in Hyde Park before the alarm was raised.

The following morning, Ms Clout said in a statement read to the court, she was horrified on her way to work to see the women were still lying in the same rigid position. "I wanted to approach them but I couldn't get too near them. I was petrified." She stopped a man on horseback, an officer from the Household Cavalry, who raised the alarm.

Michael Tarbuck, a taxi driver, said he recalled while driving through the park in the early evening a large bolt of lightning ahead of him. He said: "I knew it came down to earth very close to where I was because it was so bright and powerful, the strongest I have ever seen."

Iain West, a pathologist, said the lightning had melted some of the women's clothing and fragmented the metal in their brassieres and could have helped conduct the electricity to their hearts. But, he added, the two victims had been enveloped by a massive amount of electrical energy which would have killed them instantly.

Trevor Whitworth, 63, a retired schoolteacher, who met his wife, who worked as a chef, while on a holiday in Thailand said he would never really recover from her loss. As he gave evidence of identification, his two children, Amie, 11, and Stephen, nine, waited outside with a policewoman.

After his ordeal, Mr Whitworth said: "This has totally devastated me. She was a beautiful and kind person." Because he suffers from heart trouble, Mr Whitworth said he hoped to persuade one of his wife's relatives to travel from Thailand to help him to bring up the children.

Christopher Bell, who married his wife two years ago after they met in Thailand, was not in court.


The deaths of Bell and Whitworth are eerily reminiscent of the death of 62-year-old Iris Sommerville, who was killed a decade earlier by lightning on a park stroll.

As in the Bell/Whitworth case, serving on the inquest investigating Sommerville's death were both pathologist Iain West and coroner Paul Knapman. West testified at that inquest that a burn mark on Sommerville's chest appeared to match exactly the reinforced metal area of the bra, and he agreed the metal apparently attracted the bolt. And Knapman gave this statement to the press: "It is one of those cases, if ever there was one, which is an example of an act of God."

Lightning, its seems, does strike twice.