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Driver from High Wycombe involved in fatal M40 wrong way crash ‘had cancer in brain’

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A coroner has said that a man who caused a fatal crash by going the wrong way on the M40 was probably suffering from confusion brought on by cancer in his brain.

On Monday 15th October 2018, 80 year old John Norton, a retired banker from High Wycombe, was driving a Subaru Forester towing a caravan when it was involved in a head on collision with a Ford Mondeo driven by 32 year old Stuart Richards.

The collision happened on the northbound carriageway of the M40 between Junction 6 (Watlington) and Junction 8A (Oxford).

Both men and 87 year old Olive Howard, a passenger in Mr Norton’s vehicle, died in the crash.

An inquest in Oxford heard that Mr Norton travelled south on the northbound carriageway for about four miles before the accident.

At the inquest Oxfordshire Coroner, Darren Salter, read witness statements describing cars flashing their lights, using their horns and swerving to avoid the Subaru. The coroner said that Mr Norton continued in the third lane of the motorway between junctions six and seven, driving at speeds of between 60mph and 70mph with no attempt to stop or slow down.

The Coroner told the hearing at Oxford Coroner’s Court that according to friends Mr Norton, who lived with Mrs Howard in High Wycombe, had been acting confused in the days leading up to the fatal crash.

A few days before the fatal accident, on Wednesday 10th October 2018, Mr Norton had also been involved in a collision with a parked car in High Wycombe. When the owner of the parked car reported the collision to the police he said Mr Norton was ‘not fit to drive’.

Three years before the fatal wrong way crash Mr Norton was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The Coroner said that a post-mortem examination following the fatal accident showed the cancer had spread to Mr Norton’s brain.

The Coroner said this could have caused ‘impaired cognitive function’ such as making it harder for Mr Norton to recognise hazards.

However in February 2019, at the same junction, another driver joined the M40 motorway in the wrong direction. New temporary signs have since been installed.

The Coroner said he would write to Highways England and Oxfordshire County Council to ask what permanent measures would be put in place at the junction.

The way Thames Valley Police had handled the earlier complaint into Mr Norton’s driving was investigated by the Independent Office for Police Complaints who determined that Thames Valley Police had followed proper procedures.

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