A MAN who died when he was hit by a train had been arrested in connection with the historic brutal rape of a teenage girl, it emerged at his inquest.

Ian Keith Smith was killed instantly by a train travelling on the East Coast Mainline at Parkside, Darlington, just before midnight on September 22, 2015.

An inquest, at Crook Civic Centre, County Durham, heard that the 48-year-old had been due to answer bail the following day after his arrest last March in connection with the vicious attack in Snipe Lane, Darlington, in 1987.

He had denied being responsible and his partner Jane Smith said he was so adamant the allegation was untrue that all his family, including two grown-up children, remained sure of his innocence.

She said his behaviour never altered while he was on bail and he showed no signs of stress about the future.

Detective Sergeant Michael Harper, of the British Transport Police, told the hearing it was not clear how or why Mr Smith was on the track, near the A66 road bridge, when he was hit by a train at 23.52pm. He had been carrying a backpack, shovel and tape measure at the time.

Det Sgt Harper agreed with deputy coroner Crispin Oliver that although it appeared he was there with a purpose, to guess it would be pure speculation.

Temporary Detective Superintendent Neil Edgar, of Durham police, said Mr Smith had contacted officers two-and-a-half hours prior to his death, unbeknownst to his family, to say he would help them with other investigations.

His family still do not know what that could have been about.

Mr Oliver said: “This is not a suicide. I’m so convinced he was there for a purpose but have no actual firm evidence as to what it was.

“I’m driven to the conclusion, on the balance of probabilities, he was struck by a train and it was an accident.”

In the early morning attack which Mr Smith was linked to, two men targeted a teenage couple in a parked car near Stressholme Golf Club.

They smashed a window and dragged the victims from the vehicle. The young man was tied up while his girlfriend was raped.

Durham police had reviewed the case several times over the years.

Detective Sergeant Sean Jackson, based at Darlington, led a cold case review early last year and developments in forensics and DNA evidence led to Mr Smith’s arrest.

Speaking after the hearing, Det Sgt Jackson said the victim had moved on with her life and the potential breakthrough in the investigation had been a shock to her.

She had been given time to deal with the news and to get counselling before police took further action.

He said: “Cases like this don’t get forgotten. If anyone has any information, even now, it isn’t too late for me to try to bring the persons who did this to justice. There is still potential for suspects to be alive and be arrested.”

Anyone with information should contact Durham police on 101.