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Drug driver killed “utterly devoted parents” after falling asleep at wheel

16 Oct 2020

A drug driver who killed two “utterly devoted” parents after taking cocaine through the night and then falling asleep behind the wheel has been jailed. 

Luke Norton, 31, had visited a friend in Lincoln on Wednesday, 2 September where he had stayed up until the early hours of the morning taking cocaine. 

Having been awake all this time, Norton left his friend’s house to start work at 7.45am on Thursday and drove his company vehicle – an Iveco Daily van – whilst knowingly deprived of sleep. 

Norton, of Nocton Park Road, Nocton, Lincoln, worked in construction and on the day of the fatal collision was scheduled to complete three jobs in the Cambridgeshire area. 

He visited a house in St Ives to complete some work and was there until approximately 6pm. 

Norton was then scheduled to drive to Yaxley to carry out another job, but for reasons unknown he headed onto the A142 towards Chatteris.

Whilst driving on this road Norton’s van swerved into the opposite carriageway and directly into the path of an oncoming car.

The car, a Ford Focus, contained a family of four – two parents and two children aged 10 and 18 months old.

As a result of the head-on collision Robert Bateman, 36 and known as Bob, and his wife Paula Bateman, 35, of Westfield Road, Manea, March, died at the scene.

Robert was the driver of the Ford Focus and Paula was in the rear passenger seat behind Robert. Their daughter Lexi aged 10, and younger daughter, 18-month old Elizabeth, suffered minor injuries.

The collision was witnessed by two brothers who saw Norton’s van drive onto the wrong side of the road and directly into the path of the Ford Focus.

Emergency services arrived and Norton failed a roadside drugs test which indicated he had cocaine in his system.

He was taken to hospital as a precaution, where an evidential specimen of blood was taken from him. The sample showed the levels of Benzoylecgonine, a cocaine breakdown product, were more than 200 microgrammes per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit is 50 microgrammes.

Whilst at the hospital officers noticed Norton was lethargic, unable to stay awake and was falling asleep on the hospital bed. Scorched tin foil was also found on him, which Norton admitted was from previous drug use.

After the hospital check Norton was arrested on suspicion of two counts of causing death by dangerous driving, and driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs.

In police interview Norton claimed he must have fallen asleep at the wheel and offered this as the only explanation as to why he swerved into the other carriageway.

He said he felt good to drive before the crash and didn’t remember feeling tired or sleepy before the impact. Norton claimed he had “ongoing struggles” with drug addiction and admitted taking class A drugs “on and off” for the last 10 years.

He also admitted taking cocaine the night before the crash. He told officers he took the drugs as he “needed something” to help him deal with a relationship break up. Norton said he expected to go to prison for a long time for what he had done.

He was subsequently charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

"Utterly devastated"

In a statement released after the fatal collision, Bob and Paula’s family paid tribute to them, saying: “We are utterly devastated by this news. Bob and Paula were much-loved friends to many and will be missed by everyone who knew them.

“They were also utterly devoted parents. Bob was a much-loved son and father, while Paula was a much-loved daughter, sister and mother.”

Norton admitted the charges at Peterborough Crown Court earlier this month. He was sentenced at the same court today (16 October) where he was handed a total of eight years and eight months in prison. He was also disqualified from driving for 14 years and four months.

"The risk he took will stay with him for life"

Sergeant Mark Dollard, of the Serious Collision Investigation Unit, said: “Many people, myself included, would struggle to think of a more truly heartbreaking case than one where two little girls lost their parents in a collision they too were involved in.

“This is yet another case which highlights the utter devastation and life-changing impact someone can cause by getting behind the wheel after taking drugs. Had Norton not done so, Lexi and Elizabeth could have grown up with their loving parents by their side.

“It is beyond belief that in 2020 we still have to talk about the dangers of drink or drug driving; doing so truly shatters lives. Whilst Norton felt he was safe to drive; the true reality was that he was anything but. The risk he took will no doubt stay with him for life and this case should serve as a stark warning to others.

“People can help us make the roads of Cambridgeshire safer for everyone by confidentially reporting others they suspect of driving while under the influence.”

The force operates a dedicated, confidential hotline for members of the public to report drink or drug driving.

The hotline: 0800 032 0845 is available 24/7, and gives people the chance to supply the police with information to help reduce the number of drink or drug drivers on the county’s roads.

For more information about drink or drug driving, the law and the dangers it can cause, as well as the confidential hotline, visit the force's dedicated web page on driving under the influence.

"The knock on the door everyone dreads"

In a victim impact statement Paula’s mother, Angela Harper, said: “Paula was a beautiful baby and a wonderful big sister. Just how wonderful when at just over 2-and-a-half-years-old, I was feeding her baby sister and the pressure cooker exploded in the kitchen.

"There was our dinner all over the ceiling and dripping down the walls - but Paula calmly carried on feeding her sister. Looking back, I can see that this was the first signs of the wonderful caring supportive person she would become.

“I last saw Paula and Bob the Friday before they died when we all went for a treat to KFC in March. How thankful we are to have had that special time together. Then, on 3 September, came the knock on the door that everyone dreads.

“Two young girls are now the centre of my life due to a person so irresponsible that they caused this awful event which will affect us and many others for the rest of our lives. The girls will have no dad to walk them down the aisle, no mum to share girlie secrets and growing up talks, and no cooking tips for all those amazing cakes she baked.

“We have indescribable pain that will never go away and this pain has rippled out to the rest of my family, to Bob’s family, and so many fantastic friends. It is not just two lives that have been taken; the lives of the many that loved them have been ripped apart.

“Elizabeth will have no memories of her amazing parents, no knowledge of how fantastic they were and how loved she was. Lexi has some memories and I’m scared that they will fade.

“How do I explain that at Christmas, birthdays, mother’s and father’s days, that the very people that should be here to celebrate are never going to be there again? Never will there be laughter as a family because of that man’s actions on that night.”

"Our world was totally shattered"

In a separate statement John and Patricia Bateman, Robert’s parents, said: “Our world and the rest of families was totally shattered when police rang the doorbell.

“Robert and Paula had just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on the 20th August this year. We really miss them both, even more when we see the children.“Robert’s mam always said he gave the best hugs ever, he was a gentle giant and we all loved him.

“When lockdown was over they came to visit, Paula had baked a delicious cake as usual and we got to see how big the girls had grown. This was the last time we saw them. We and the family miss them very, very much. They will always be with us in our hearts.” 

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