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Keep hedgerows trimmed lesson to be learned from Outwell father's death

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A coroner has called for hedgerows to be kept properly trimmed along roads following an inquest into the death of a West Norfolk father.

An inquest has heard that a mature conifer hedge bordering a driveway and an overgrown hedgerow partially obscuring an access mirror contributed to the crash which killed 32-year-old Ben Johnson.

Mr Johnson was fatally injured in a collision on Wisbech Road, Outwell on October 10, 2019.

Ben Johnson was killed in a collision with a tractor on Wisbech Road, Outwell. (50311705)
Ben Johnson was killed in a collision with a tractor on Wisbech Road, Outwell. (50311705)

He was a front seat passenger in a black Vauxhall Corsa being driven by family friend and learner driver Emma Donger, also of Outwell, whose toddler son was in the back, when the crash happened.

Tractor driver John Harrison, who was aged 52 at the time of the crash, was emerging from a gateway at his property in a red Massey Ferguson tractor, which had a front press attachment, which extended about 1.5m into the Outwell bound lane.

Miss Donger's Corsa collided with the agricultural attachment which ripped the roof from the vehicle and left it dangling down behind into the road.

Mr Johnson suffered severe head and neck injuries as a result of the impact and died at the scene.

A prepared statement, given by Mr Harrison at the time of his police interview following the crash, was read out at today's hearing.

In it he said he had carried out the manoeuvre numerous times in the previous 15 years without incident.

He described inching forward from his driveway, which had a high conifer hedge, using a mirror located opposite to see if there were any vehicles coming as he emerged from his property and said he saw nothing before the impact.

He added: "I'm utterly devastated that someone died that day."

In her statement given days after the crash Miss Donger described Mr Johnson as the brother she never had, and said that while she only had a provisional licence she had been driving for 11 years and had passed her theory test.

Mr Johnson, who had a full licence, was supervising her driving that day.

She described driving along Outwell Road, which she knew well, when there was "suddenly a big bang".

"My instant reaction was to duck and brake at the same time. Ben didn't say or shout anything before that happened," she said.

A police accident investigation report described how the mature conifer hedge had obscured not only Mr Harrison's view as he exited his property but also the view of Miss Donger of the tractor in the driveway.

The convex mirror opposite the drive, which Mr Harrison was using to see whether the road was clear was also partially obscured by a hedgerow and impeded the view of the Outwell bound lane.

Within days of the crash, the report said, the conifers had been cut down and no longer impeded the view of either lane.

The report suggested the only safe way for Mr Harrison to drive out of his property was to have a banksman to see him out.

However, Mr Harrison had told officers he was a "one man band" and there was no available staff to do the role.

But the hearing heard his partner had been inside the property at the time of the collision.

Summing up the evidence Jacqueline Lake, Norfolk's senior coroner, said the mature conifer hedgerow and the hedgerow opposite not only obstructed Mr Harrison's view, but also obscured the orange flashing beacon on the top of the tractor from Miss Donger's view which would have given her an indication it was there.

She concluded that Mr Johnson died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries as a result of a road traffic accident.

She added: "Having heard the evidence one lesson to be learnt from Mr Johnson's death is the importance of keeping hedgerows trimmed to provide a clear view of the road. The second lesson is to ensure any mirrors used also provide a clear view over the roadway."

Read more: Tractor driver admits causing West Norfolk village crash death tragedy

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