ANN PICKERING has an abiding feeling of regret that she was unable to say her final farewells to her mother and father, and thank them for everything they had done for her.

Speaking of the death of parents William and Florence Henderson in the Crawleyside Bank disaster, Mrs Pickering, 78, of Seaburn, Sunderland, said she had been been stopped from entering a mortuary by a policeman protecting her from the cruel reality of what had happened.

Discussing the tragedy as Blackhall Colliery prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the crash, Mrs Pickering said: “I was an only child born in Blackhall, where my father was a miner.

“My parents did everything they could for me and put me through teacher training college. I taught in Newcastle for while before going to Italy to teach at the International School of Milan, when my father took seriously ill.

“I came back to be close to him and worked in Peterlee for a while. When my father got better he said to me ‘well off you go you needn’t stay here any longer. Don’t hang around'.

“I was preparing to go back to Italy and that is when the accident happened. I never did ever get back.”

Mrs Pickering recalls "total confusion" in the village when news of the crash first broke. Someone remarked her mother and father would not be there, because it was a veteran bowlers’ trip.

She said: “My mother was 56 and father 61 and no one expected them to be on the coach. I think there were two spare seats and they just filled them up.

“I was at a friend’s house when the police came and told me my parents had died. It was like an electric shock. It goes right through you.

“They told me to get into their van and go with them to Consett. It was about 4am and I remember it being bitterly cold.”

Mrs Pickering got up to the door of the mortuary, when a policeman stepped in front of her and and said: “Oh no my dear.”

“I asked why, saying I was the only one who could identify them. He said to me: ‘If you go in there it is sight you will never forget for the rest of your life'.

“So my mother’s brother and father’s brother were contacted. Many years later my uncle spoke to my husband about it – the policeman had done the right thing as I would have never have got over it.

“My father was taken away in the first ambulance to leave the scene, but when he got to hospital he had died. That was shattering.

“The thing I would like to say is I regret not being able to say goodbye and thank you for everything they did for me.

“Because they made many sacrifices for me, on very poor wages. They put me through school and college and for that I am very grateful.”

Mrs Pickering added: “My mother’s brother, Walter Foggin, was on the bus and I went to see him in hospital.

“He just broke down, because he must have seen what had happened. He had been in the Army and said he had never seen anything like it. Probably because he recognised people. It was closer to home.”

At her parents’ joint funeral Mrs Pickering recalls old men lining the street taking off their black caps as the cortege passed.

“I have memories of the day, but they are not very clear," she said. "I was in a daze. You learn to live with it, but it never leaves you.”