SHOOTING BRAKE SLICED IN HALF BY LAMPOST
Worst Midlands tragedy of the winter occurred at Leicester in the early hours of Christmas morning and plunged three Burton Latimer families into mourning.
Eight members of the village Church of England Youth Club had been to a dance at Leicester. They were returning to Burton Latimer from a Christmas Eve dance at Leicester’s Palais-de Dance when the small shooting brake in which they were travelling, skidded and crashed into a lamp standard on the nearside of the road. The vehicle was sliced in half and then broke up. The fatal smash occurred at the junction of the main London Road and Shirley Road Leicester at 1.35 am.
Three of the party were killed instantly, and five injured four of them seriously.
The three dead were:
Raymond Phipp (19), a National Serviceman home on Christmas leave;
Frank William Johnson (18), a journalist employed at the Wellingborough office of the “Mercury and Herald”, and
Geoffrey Shepherd (20).
The injured who were taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary, were: George Frederick Eady (19), of 167 High Street, Burton Latimer (cut hand and bruises), Tony Court (19) of 47 Pioneer Avenue (head injuries), Terry Willis (19) of 11 Broadway, Kettering (head injuries), Malcolm Craddock (17) of 4 Miller Road, Burton Latimer (head injuries), James Coles (17) of 29 Whitney Road, Burton Latimer (concussion). Court, Willis and Craddock were detained at the Infirmary. Coles was transferred to Leicester General Hospital and discharged on Monday. Yesterday the condition of Court was given as “satisfactory”, of Willis as “improved” and Craddock as “fairly satisfactory after a good night.” The driver, Eady, who was less seriously injured, was later taken home by ambulance to Burton Latimer.
At the sound of the crash people living in London Road rushed from their beds. Among them were Leicestershire’s Chief Constable, Mr John A Taylor, who quickly organised rescue operations by police on duty at the county headquarters less than 50 yards away from the scene. Leicester police and Fire Brigade were involved in clearing the road following the accident.
George Eady is in business with his father as a heel builder. He said “How I escaped was a miracle. I would sooner have got it than my mates. I was thrown out and so were several of my friends. The shooting brake belonged to Mr Colin Fairey of Polwell Lane, Barton Seagrave. Frank Johnson had worked as a reporter at the Wellingborough office of Mercury & Herald for nearly a year. He was a keen table tennis player, playing regularly for Burton Latimer Church of England Youth Club, and a soccer enthusiast. He was the only child of Mr and Mrs Johnson of 224 Woodland Drive, Burton Latimer, and had only recently applied for a deferment of his call-up. He had been continuing his studies at Wellingborough Technical College. Raymond Phipp was the eldest son of Mr and Mrs S T Phipp of 39 Kettering Road, Burton Latimer. He joined the RAOC in September to do his National Service and was stationed at Feltham, Middlesex. He came home on leave for Christmas, and had spent a few hours with his family before leaving with his friends for the dance. Before call-up Raymond was employed by Individual Shoes, Burton Latimer. Geoffrey Ronald Shepherd lived with his foster parents, Mr and Mrs H Keech of 53 Bakehouse Lane, Burton Latimer, who had looked after him for 14 years. He was an apprentice painter and decorator employed by Mr A G Miller and his five years’ apprenticeship would have ended in January.
Many friends including 30 members of the Church of England Youth Club at Burton Latimer attended the funeral at St Mary’s Church, Burton Latimer. Among the many wreaths were three from the Youth Club Management.
REPORT OF THE INQUEST
“A deplorable tragedy which should never have occurred” was the comment of a deputy to the Leicester Coroner, at the resumed inquest at Leicester Town Hall, on three young men killed in an accident on the London Road, Leicester, early on Christmas morning.
Three men received fatal injuries in the accident. After a short retirement, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death in each case.
The main evidence given was that for some unknown reason, Johnson, one of the dead men, said to the driver of the vehicle, a Hillman shooting brake, in which there were eight young men, “Let me have a go,” and with his left hand pulled the steering wheel towards him while the driver immediately pulled it the other way.
The shooting brake ran along the pavement and collided with a lamp standard. Three of the men in the vehicle were killed and five others injured.
Medical evidence was given that each of the young men died from fractures of the skull.
It was stated that the young men had borrowed the shooting brake in order to attend a dance at the Palais-de-Dance, Leicester, on Christmas Eve, and the accident occurred in London Road on their way home in the early hours of the morning. The car was in good condition when they left on the way to Leicester. The owner, Colin Thomas Reginald Fairey, of Barton Seagrave said the car was in good condition when he lent it, but he would not have done so if he had known there were going to be eight people in it.
Tony Court of 47 Pioneer Avenue, Burton Latimer, one of the passengers, who appeared on crutches said he was sitting in the middle of the back row. Johnson was beside the driver.
After leaving the Pailais-de-Dance they went along London Road at a speed of about 30 miles an hour. He saw Johnson pull the wheel over to the left and then the driver pulled it to the right.
George Frederick Eady of 167 High Street, Burton Latimer, the driver of the vehicle, said he and the others went to the Palais-de-Dance at Leicester. He went out to a public house and returned to the dance hall about 10 o’clock.
One of the other young men took two girls home and then returned to the Palais-de-Dance. On the way home, while going along London Road, Johnson who was sitting next to him, said, “Let me have a go. He put his left hand on the steering wheel and pulled it towards the left.” He had previously mentioned about the steering “being wrong.” Witness added that he pulled the wheel to the right. He was not aware that the car had gone on to the pavement.
The foreman of the jury pointed out that the vehicle was overloaded. “The difficulty of the steering was due to the overloading.” He said. “There were eight of you young fellows at Christmas out on the spree.”
“You had had a few drinks. After the accident the vehicle was a complete write-off.
“You say your speed was 27 miles-an-hour. There is something radically wrong. This is a tragedy, which doesn’t happen without reason.
“Did this man pull the steering out of your hands because he was not satisfied with your driving.” You went 63 feet on the pavement and didn’t know you were on the pavement. You don’t seem to know much about it. You were acting in an irresponsible way. This doesn’t happen without some reason.”
In reply to Sir Geoffrey Barnet, (for the driver) witness said he did not know that he was on the pavement. The kerb was very low.
In reply to the Coroner, witness said he made his statement an hour-and-a-half after the accident and at that time did not know that Johnson was dead. Eady said that he did not have a drink in the dance hall after 10 o’clock, which was three hours before the accident.
Summing up the Coroner said there was no evidence that these young men were the worse for drink at the time of the accident. There was no doubt the vehicle was grossly overloaded.