Fathers' tell of grief after A12 tragedy

The fathers of three teenagers killed in a road crash have spoken of their relief after the man accused of causing their deaths changed his plea to guilty just days before he was due to stand trial.

The fathers of three teenagers killed in a road crash have spoken of their relief after the man accused of causing their deaths changed his plea to guilty just days before he was due to stand trial.

Army corporal Ben Morphey, 22, is facing jail after admitting five charges of causing death by careless driving while unfit due to drink.

Lowestoft teenagers Claire Stoddart, 18, her sister Jenny, 15, and their friend Carla Took, 18, died after the two-car crash on the A12 at Blythburgh, near Southwold, on July 1 last year.

They had been celebrating the end of their exams with friends at a rock concert in Ipswich shortly before the tragedy, which also claimed the lives of two people in the car driven by Morphey.

Ipswich Crown Court heard that Morphey had drunk a "considerable amount" of alcohol during the night of the crash and ploughed head-on into the car being driven back to Lowestoft by Claire Stoddart.

Judge John Holt said sentencing would take place during the week beginning June 25 and warned Morphey that a prison sentence was inevitable.

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After the hearing, Carla's father, David Took, told of his relief at the guilty plea, but also his anger that Morphey had taken so long to change his mind.

Mr Took, 46, said: "My initial reaction is that this has taken too long for him to change his plea to guilty. This should have happened before Christmas.

"I am glad that this has now come to an end so we can get some closure and start to go forward. The girls were very close friends and we are devastated at what has happened; it has turned our lives upside down.

"I have got no sympathy for him [Morphey] and he deserves everything he gets. But it doesn't bring the girls back."

Phil Stoddart, the father of Claire and Jenny, said he was also relieved at the change of plea by Morphey, particularly as it meant two other teenagers who survived the crash were spared the trauma of giving evidence.

"The last few months have been really horrible for us," he said. "Right from the start we knew Claire had been driving on the correct side of the road and that she wasn't speeding.

"There were two other people in the car and they would have had to go through the whole trauma of being witnesses. For them to avoid this is really good news."

Mr Stoddart, 44, added: "In terms of a custodial sentence, we've got mixed feelings. On the one hand we don't see the benefits of him going to jail, because he didn't set out to kill our daughters. But on the other hand, if you don't pass a hard sentence for drinking and driving, you encourage other people to do it. Justice has got to be shown to be done."

The teenagers' friends Sarah Mitchell and Adam Cox were injured in the crash. Two passengers in Morphey's Renault Laguna, Simon Bonner, 40, and Kim Abbott, 41, both from Yoxford, died and Morphey was treated for leg injuries.

Prosecutor Simon Spence said Morphey, of High Street, Yoxford, who was based at RAF Wattisham, had been drinking at a club on the night in question. Witnesses said he had stopped drinking quite early, but tests carried out after the accident revealed he must have consumed "a considerable amount".

The collision happened during the early hours of July 1 and experts estimated that Morphey was driving between 50 and 55mph when he drove onto the wrong side of the road, which has a 60mph limit.

Initially, it had been suggested by Morphey that lights on the Vauxhall Astra being driven by Claire Stoddart had dazzled him, but expert examination of the wreckage revealed the lights were in a dipped position.

He added that as Morphey had pleaded guilty to the five new charges it was not in the public interest to pursue the original five counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

Although Morphey's guilty plea was heard on Friday an order was made postponing any publication of the hearing until the victims' families had been notified.

James Onalaja, representing Morphey, said it was not claimed that anyone else had played a contributory role in causing the accident and that the crash had been caused by a momentary lapse of concentration from his client.

Morphey was granted continuation of his bail until the hearing at the end of the month. He was made the subject of an interim driving ban ahead of sentencing.

A spokesman for the MoD said he could not comment on Morphey's future career in the Army until after sentence was passed.