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Memorial service for Prior's Court staff killed in M4 collision

'Our sense of community and family has been at its strongest'

John Garvey

john.garvey@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886628

Prior's Court: 'Our sense of community and family has been at its strongest'

PRIOR’S Court School has said an emotional farewell to three staff members who died following a collision on the M4 in October.

A memorial service took place at a packed St Nicolas’ Church in Newbury on Tuesday.

Jason Aleixo, aged 44, from Newbury, Cathy Gardiner, 52, from Reading, and Lorraine MacLellan, 60, from Farnborough, Hampshire, were killed when the school minibus was in a collision with a lorry on the M4 between Hungerford and Chieveley. 

Mr Aleixo and Mrs MacLellan died at the scene, while Mrs Gardiner, who had been driving the minibus, died from her injuries in hospital the next day. 

The service was conducted by Fr Oliver Holt from Douai Abbey at Woolhampton, who was a trustee at the Hermitage school for nine years.

The school’s chief executive, Mike Robinson, told the congregation: “Over the past few weeks our sense of family and community has been at its strongest.

“Never more so than in the hours immediately following the accident, when my remarkable colleagues put the needs of our young people ahead of their own pain and grief.

“Everyone made sure it was life as usual for our young people.

“It was truly remarkable and humbling to see the strength of everyone under those circumstances.”

He added: “We also witnessed an unprecedented level of support from the wider Prior’s Court community – parents, trustees, ex-staff, colleagues from other schools and local authorities.

“Many of who are here today.

“Thank you for the literally thousands of messages of support – it meant so much to us.”

Lesley Copland said of Jason Aleixo: “He was a kind and gentle man, always putting others before himself.

“He was reliable, dependable and always willing to help.”

Jan Curtain then paid tribute to Cathy Gardiner, saying: “Her smile and happy, caring nature shone through everything she did.

“She had a heart of gold.

“She was happy laughing at herself and making others laugh... a breath of fresh air.”

Reflecting on Lorraine MacLellan, Sue Piper said: “She was a great friend and mother figure to many of the staff and students... known and treasured by many.

“She knew everyone and was always ready to lend a hand.”

There were smiles among the tears as fond anecdotes were shared and endearing foibles remembered.

Dani Cano, on behalf of the Autistic Adult Choir, got the congregation singing along with his piano and vocal rendition of All You Need Is Love by The Beatles.

The service was brought to a rousing close by a performance of the Priors Court single, Let Me Shine.

The school, one of the country’s leading providers of education and care for children with severe autism, recorded the song to help raise awareness of the condition.

Nearly three million people have watched the video on the school’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. 

As Mr Robinson said at the conclusion of his address: “Prior’s Court may never quite be the same again, but, one thing is for certain – it will be stronger.”

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