Victim in wrong place at wrong time

Joanne Capille at home in Hillsborough. Her mother June Bryce Stephen was killed by two car drivers who were racing.
Joanne Capille at home in Hillsborough. Her mother June Bryce Stephen was killed by two car drivers who were racing.
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It was just another cosy Saturday night. Relaxed in her pyjamas, glass of wine in hand, Joanne Capille settled into the sofa.

Not much more than an hour before their film had started, on a road just over a mile away, a drama more chilling and sickening than any thriller was unfolding.

Happy times: Joanne Capille with mum June Bryce-Stephen.

Happy times: Joanne Capille with mum June Bryce-Stephen.

An adrenalin-fuelled car race was ripping its way up Halifax Road. For reasons still unknown, two total strangers were caught up in a testosterone-charged race.

At 7.40pm, there had been the sickening screech of braking tyres and the smash of metal on metal. Driving home in her silver Micra, Joanne’s adored mother, June Bryce-Stephen, by some terrible twist of fate just happened to be in their way.

The lead driver, 23-year-old Adam Cox, of Stannington, couldn’t stop in time. He ploughed into June’s car at 60mph as she attempted to turn onto the opposite carriageway. June died instantly, at the age of 56. Joanne’s world imploded just two hours later with a knock at the door.

“Mum had been living with us for six years; she was late back from a trip to York and I was just starting to feel a tinge of worry. When I heard someone at the front door. I just assumed it was her and wondered why she wasn’t using her key.”

June Bryce-Stephen with grand-daughter Isobelle

June Bryce-Stephen with grand-daughter Isobelle

But Martyn looked into the street and saw a police car.

“I think I was in denial from that second,” says Joanne, 39.

Some 14 months on, a wry smile crosses a face paled from months of strain as she remembers how she bombarded the police officer with angry questions.

He had brought her mother’s handbag and mobile phone to be identified, then gently broken the news; June had died in a car accident. “I started telling him I’d just been and bought a Mother’s Day card for next Sunday and demanding to know what I was supposed to say to her grand-daughter in bed upstairs,” she says. “There was so much shock and disbelief, I couldn’t take the enormity of it in.

Police later estimated the minimum speed Cox and fellow racer Simon Chevens were travelling at when Cox hit June’s Nissan Micra as she crossed from Lyminster Road into Halifax Road was 60mph in a 40 zone.

“Martyn went to identify her body and I was left with her handbag. Inside was the bag of sausages she’d rung to ask if I wanted. That was the last time we spoke. I sat there, looking at the remains of what had been her lovely day out with friends. The last day of her life.”

After a night spent calling everyone, from her brother Chris, his wife Sonia and their sons Oliver and Theo in Australia, to June’s many friends, the exhausted couple opened the door to the police again the next morning.

“They told us they suspected the drivers involved had been racing. I was enraged. The accident had been completely avoidable. My mum’s life had been wasted thanks to their complete disregard for human life.”

June’s death left a huge hole: “Mum lived with us; we were part of each others’ daily lives. The worst thing I’ve ever had to do was tell my daughter Isobelle her nanan had died. She had been like a second mother to her.

“I went to university at 36 and started a demanding new career as an NHS operating department practitioner; I couldn’t have done any of it without mum. She was the one who filled all the gaps, who took Isobelle to swimming and trampolining classes and picked her up from school.”

June’s grand-daughter, now 11, needed over a year of counselling to deal with her grief. She would panic if ever Joanne was late home and would ring her at work every morning, to check she had got there safely.

“Her nanan left the house and never came back; she’s terrified of the same thing happening to me,” says Joanne. “It’s awful to think your child is living with such fear. And of course, there is no nanan to take her to her after-school clubs. There are so many things she can’t do any more. Her childhood has altered beyond all recognition, just because two grown men treated their cars like toys.”

June Bryce-Stephen’s thoughtful and caring nature put her in the path of Cox and Chevens’ mindless high-speed chase that fateful night last March.

“She loved helping people, no matter if it put her out. It was her nature,” says daughter Joanne Capille. “On the day she died, she had been out with friends and insisted on driving them to their doorsteps, despite them urging her to drop them where it was more convenient for her. That was so typical of her.

“It put her in the wrong place at the wrong split-second in time. Had she not insisted, she would not have been crossing Halifax Road in her little Micra and she would have got home, safe and sound.”

The senseless loss of her mother’s life was made even more devastating by the fact that both drivers denied the truth for so long

Says Joanne: “Instead of considering our distress, they just thought about protecting themselves and it dragged on and on. Meantime, our lives were on hold; we couldn’t plan anything in case a trial was suddenly set. There was so much anger in me, it would spill out over any little thing. I’d have huge arguments with Martyn. Now I can understand why couples split up after a family trauma; the stress affects the way you think about everything.”

However, the tragedy has spurred Joanne to warn learner drivers that cars are lethal weapons in the wrong hands. She hopes to work alongside road safety campaigners to spread the message that wreckless driving ruins lives.

“We were the latest in a long line of families who have had devastation wreaked on them by dangerous drivers,” she says.

“That line will go on and on while-ever there are thoughtless and irresponsible people on the roads. What happened to my mother will undoubtedly happen to some one else. Other families will have to go through the pain we’ve endured.

“I can’t bear that thought and want to do something to make drivers stop and think about the grief they could be about to inflict on an innocent family.”

Joanne has been approached by the safety organisation Drive It Home, which takes first-hand accounts from families who have lost relatives in road accidents into schools and colleges.

“I plan to get back in contact with them and work with them,” says Joanne.

“For over a year, all my anger and pain has been channelled into the eventual trial. I can’t let it end here. The shock and the pain will never go away for any of us, but I want to make something good come out of my mother’s death.”