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"There are many questions that have been left unanswered"

Family of Catherine Gardiner issue statement following conclusion of inquest

John Herring

John Herring

john.herring@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886633

Tributes paid to Prior's Court School staff member

THE family of Prior's Court School staff member Catherine Gardiner have said that many questions about the crash remain unanswered. 

Miss Gardiner, a vocational instructor at the Hermitage school for young people with autism and was driving the minibus when is suddenly lost power on the M4 a year ago today (Friday). 

An inquest into her death and the deaths of autism practitioners Jason Aleixo and Lorraine MacLellan was unable to find the exact reason why the bus went from 50mph to around 5mph as it travelled between Hungerford and Chieveley.

Senior coroner for Berkshire Heidi Connor said that "The reason remains unclear after a detailed investigation, although on the balance of probability a problem with the vehicle appears to be more likely than driver input." 

In a statement released on behalf of the family following the inquest, Miss Gardiner's son Ben Stubbs said: “It has been almost a year to the day since mum died and one of the hardest things for us has been not knowing exactly what happened.

"We hoped that the inquest would help us fill in some of the blanks and although we welcome the coroner’s findings, we still feel there are many questions that have been left unanswered.

"Mum was a beautiful and amazing mother, daughter, sister and friend who dedicated her life to helping others and particularly the children and young adults with learning difficulties who she taught at Prior’s Court. She was a truly kind soul and the hundreds of people who turned up to pay their respects at her funeral showed just how many lives she touched."

The inquest heard that Miss Gardiner had died at the John Radcliffe Hospital from a traumatic brain injury a day after the crash and that her organs had been donated. 

“We all miss her terribly and remember her every day. However, through this tragedy we know that at least four people’s lives were saved or drastically improved thanks to her organ donation and we take great comfort from that," Mr Stubbs said. 

The inquest heard that the hard shoulder had been closed off the day before the tragic crash to allow Highways England contractors to replace a barrier. 

Staff member Svilen Mihov, who was sitting in the front of the minibus with Miss Gardiner told the inquest that everything was fine until the bus started juddering and shaking.

He added that Ms Gardiner was holding the gear stick saying: “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

He said: “I started to think why has the bus started shaking? I didn’t have time to say something because everything was very quick.

“It was a big shake, but I didn’t know what was the problem. I have never seen this problem before.

“It looked like the engine was working, but couldn’t properly. 

“She was shouting, panicking because of something that happened and she can’t manage this situation.” 

Mr Mihov said he had not been worried about Miss Gardiner’s driving and that she was an experienced minibus driver. 

Patrick Maguire, a specialist serious injury lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represented the family, said: “It is clear from the evidence of Svilen Mihov, who was sat next to Catherine in the front passenger seat, that this was not a case of driver error but some kind of mechanical failure.

"Tragically it is also something which may have been avoided if the hard shoulder had been available on that stretch of the motorway.

“Catherine was an experienced driver who always took great care on the roads and the sudden and unexplained nature of her death is something her family believe needs further investigation to help them understand and come to terms with what happened”.

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