Sutton Bridge mother calls for lessons to be learned after tragedy

Lorraine Mason with daughters Tamzin and Jessica Portor
Lorraine Mason with daughters Tamzin and Jessica Portor

The bereaved mother of two young sisters who died after a car driven by their father’s new partner veered off the A47 hopes “valuable lessons will be learned”.

Lorraine Mason spoke out after an inquest into the deaths of daughters Tamzin, 10, and Jessica, 7, Portor heard on Monday that Marie Easter’s careless driving and loss of control was exacerbated by poor maintenance of her car.

Mrs Easter – who was convicted of causing the girls’ deaths by careless driving at crown court in January – had been driving the family to the cinema over the Christmas break in 2012 when the car swerved off the A47 at Walsoken, rolling into a ditch.

The inquest was told Jessica was not wearing a seatbelt, and the car was poorly maintained with dangerously low tyre treads, uneven tyre pressures and a slow puncture, making it hard to control.

After the hearing, a tearful Mrs Mason said: “If you drive a vehicle, you are responsible for that vehicle and you are responsible for everyone in that vehicle.

“Do not take someone’s word for it that they have put their seatbelts on. You should also check the tyres and if you think something’s not right then you shouldn’t drive.

“There’s a lesson to be learned as I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have to go through every single day of my life. It’s just not worth it.

“I’ve lost two thirds of my life which I will never get back, I hope people will take a valuable lesson away from that.”

Tamzin and Jessica, who lived with their mother in Sutton Bridge, were visiting their father Allan Portor in Terrington St Clement when the family decided to take a trip to the cinema in Peterborough on December 27, 2012.

Mrs Easter was driving herself, Mr Portor, the two girls and their older brother Liam, in her Ford Focus estate when the accident happened at about 6.40pm.

At the inquest at Lynn County Court yesterday, Mrs Easter said she had swerved to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car, which was driving on her side of the road.

Mrs Easter’s daughter Victoria Brookes, who was also travelling to the cinema in a car behind them, said she too saw the oncoming car, but collision investigator, Sergeant Andy Hood, said there was no evidence to suggest another car was involved.

Several witness statements were also read in court disputing the existence of any other vehicle that could have caused the Focus to swerve, stating that the opposite carriageway had been clear.

Mr Porter himself did not see an oncoming car as he was looking at his phone when the Focus started to swerve, but he told the hearing: “I trust she saw a car even though it has been dissed and the police don’t believe it. She loved those children like anything. I trust her and what she said, so that’s good enough for me.”

He said before the family set off to the cinema he had asked all three children sat in the back if they were wearing seatbelts, and they all replied ‘yes’, but neither he or Mrs Easter physically checked.

Mrs Easter admitted two counts of causing death by careless driving at Norwich Crown Court and was sentenced to 15-months imprisonment, suspended for two years. She was also banned from driving for four years, with a compulsory re-test.

She told the inquest her car had also undergone maintenance work at a local garage owned by Ian Fendley on December 19, and she would have expected any faults or issues to be picked.

“I asked if everything was safe on the car and he said ‘yes’, she told the court. “I trusted a person who dealt with cars.”

Mr Portor also told the court they handed a receipt for work on the car into Norwich Crown Court during the criminal case, but a statement from Mr Fendley’s wife, Ilana, said they had ordered a wheel bearing for the car, but it was never fitted and there was no record for any work being carried out.

Recording a narrative verdict for both Tamzin and Jessica’s deaths, Norfolk coroner Jacqueline Lake said the girls had died from multiple injuries consistent with a road traffic accident.

She said: “We have heard evidence to suggest the car had work done to it, although it is not clear what work was done or when. Mrs Easter said she had been assured the car was safe to drive. Be that as it may, the police found the rear tyre tread depths below the legal limit, the tyre pressures were unbalanced and the front offside tyre had a slow puncture. These factors were likely to have exacerbated loss of control once harsh steering had been applied.”