Popular Chesterfield headteacher killed by car deliberately driven wrong way down motorway
A woman driver, apparently intent on suicide, killed a popular retired head teacher by ploughing into her car while deliberately driving the wrong way down a motorway.
Paula Kingdon, who worked at Westfield Infant School, Brampton for her entire teaching career and was headteacher until the summer of 2016, had no chance of avoiding the collision on the M57 near Kirby on Merseyside.
Her tragic death led to an outpouring of grief in the local community.
Today (Thursday, October 7) 43-year-old Anne Marie Crook was jailed for four years eight months after admitting causing her death by dangerous driving.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that Crook claims she cannot recollect the incident, which left her seriously injured, but it was accepted that her actions had been deliberate.
Sentencing her Judge Garrett Byrne said that after driving down a slip road the wrong way onto the motorway she did not brake or try to avoid the collision which occurred shortly afterwards.
Thumbnail photographs were found on her mobile depicting motorway crash scenes, motorways and junctions and the judge said that they, combined with the manner of her driving and her failure to wear a seatbelt, “supports the contention that you were trying to end your own life.
“I do not consider that that motivation mitigates the culpability of your actions. If that was your motivation, then it was a profoundly selfish one because you were prepared to injure or kill others in the pursuit of your goal.
“Paula had nothing to do with you and your life, she was not responsible in any way for the difficulties you were having in your life. You Ms Crook may have chosen to end your life on that day, but Paula Kingdon had not chosen to end hers – she wanted to live.”
Although she lived in Sheffield, Paula, a Liverpool FC fan, regularly visited her step-father in Liverpool to help him following the death of her mum and the court heard that since the crash on October 31, 2019, he has steeply declined physically and mentally.
Judge Byrne said that her loss had left her brother Stephen Sharples and his family “feeling utterly bereft.
“Paula was the last remaining member of his original family and now she is gone. He speaks of the sense of grief and loss felt by the whole community. It is clear that Paula was a much valued and much loved member of her community.
“She had made a real contribution to the community during her 40-“year career as a teacher and then as a head-teacher at the Westfield School. She had devoted her life to helping others and was enjoying her retirement when you caused her death by your senseless actions.”
He continued that her culpability was high as it had been ”a deliberate decision to ignore or a flagrant disregard for the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others.
“You drove at excessive speeds for five miles before the collision and undertook a vehicle in the dual carriageway. The collision can be properly characterised as being a deliberate act.
“Although you may not have specifically intended to harm anyone else, you must have realised at the time that your driving was bound to cause somebody really serious harm, if not their death. There was also a risk that more than one person could have been seriously injured, or worse.
“The consequences of your actions were entirely foreseeable and they were reckless in the extreme.”
Addressing Paula’s brother and family in the public gallery Judge Byrne said, “I can only imagine the pain and sense of loss that you are experiencing at Paula’s death.
“To lose a sister is bad enough, but to lose her in such an unnecessary and avoidable way must be difficult to come to terms with. Mr Sharples uses the word ‘futile’ in his victim impact statement and that it a good way to describe this – it was utterly futile.”
He banned Crook, of Cheviot Avenue, St Helens, from driving for five years four months.
Chris Hopkins, prosecuting, told the court that the collision happened at 9.30 am on October 31, 2019 near junction 5 on the M57 between Crook’s black Renault Clio and the victim’s Honda Jazz.
Crook had earlier been driving at between 92 - 94 mph along a 40 mph stretch of the East Lancashire Road and after waiting at a right hand turn filter lane instead of turning right she drove straight ahead towards oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the carriageway.
She then drove the wrong way up the exit slip road onto the motorway and continued driving the wrong way on the motorway and head on into Mrs Kingdon’s car.
“All the evidence indicates it was a deliberate act and the only sensible inference is that the defendant was intending to harm herself,” said Mr Hopkins.
He said that Crook worked at Bargain Booze and her colleague told how Crook had been unusually quiet and withdrawn the previous evening and she knew she had been in a five year on-off relationship and worried about her partner having a relationship with another woman.
Mr Hopkins said that analysis of the defendant’s phone showed extensive messages in the weeks before the crash involving arguments between her and her partner.
Several weeks after the crash her colleague visited her in hospital and when she asked her if she had tried to kill herself “she did not answer and just looked away.”
He also read statements from other motorists who witnessed her driving “with purpose” and spoke of their horror as she drove the wrong way ignoring drivers blowing their horns in warning.
A driver in front of the victim’s vehicle saw Crook driving towards her and swerved out of the way. Her vehicle had obstructed Mrs Kingdon’s view “and she had not seen it until that vehicle swerved out of the way and left her with no time to take any avoiding action,” said Mr Hopkins.
When interviewed in July Crook said she could not remember anything about the collision and said that the only conclusion she could come to was that she had taken the wrong turn and panicked.
Sarah Griffin, defending, said that Crook said in a letter to the judge, “I thoroughly deserve any sentence you see fit to pass on me. I deserve that.”
She said she is a mum of two adult children and her imprisonment would impact them and they would be affected by the stigma. Despite not having had an interim driving ban imposed she had not driven since the crash “and does not intend to get behind a wheel of a car again.”
Miss Griffin added “She did not deliberately intend to harm another but it is accepted the inevitably of what occurred.”
“She has subsequent to this offence made an attempt on her life. On August 13 last year she was taken by police from a bridge and committed and released a number of days later.”