Published: 06:00, 17 January 2020
| Updated: 09:34, 17 January 2020
The family of a teenage girl killed in a drink-drive crash two days before her mum took a fatal drug overdose say they can never forgive the woman at the wheel.
Carol and Ray Hood were left distraught when 18-year-old Casey Hood died in the horrific accident on the outskirts of Canterbury in September 2018.
And they were struck a double blow when two days later their grief-stricken daughter, recovering drug addict Natalie Hood, died after turning to heroin to ease the pain.
The Hoods, who live in Whitfield, now say they can never forgive driver Lucy Leadbeater, who was also killed in the crash, after it emerged at the inquest she was over the legal alcohol limit and had ignored passengers' pleas to slow down.
Mrs Hood said: “Lucy Leadbeater has ruined our lives and we can never forgive her for destroying our family through her recklessness.
"This is what can happen when you drink and drive and there’s no excuse for it. Her actions have had devastating consequences for us all.”
The inquest was told Miss Leadbeater was uninsured to drive a borrowed Toyota which was followed by police from Canterbury to a lay-by in Adisham Road, near Woolage.
An officer in a van pulled up alongside her car, but she drove off at speed. Moments later the police sergeant, who had followed in pursuit, came across the wreckage of the car on its side in Nethersole Road.
The Hoods believe the tragedy may have been averted if police had taken more decisive action to stop the car and have raised the matter with the force.
But an independent investigation into police actions on the night did not find any fault with the way the incident was handled.
“I know it’s easier to consider things in hindsight but we just don’t understand why the police van didn’t just pull in front of the car, which would have prevented her from pulling away and maybe the crash would not have happened,” Mrs Hood said.
The inquest was told Miss Leadbeater and Miss Hood had been drinking in Canterbury in the hours before the crash.
Mrs Hood says the one saving grace is that Casey’s twin sister, Kellis, did not join the pair in the city.
“I’m just so relieved that I told Kellis not to go out that night because she had work in the morning,” she said.
“But Casey had got herself ready to go out and was going no matter what anyone said.”
The deaths of Casey and her mum continue to haunt the Hoods, who previously lost another daughter, Carla, to a drug overdose.
“It’s brought it all up again for us,” said Mrs Hood.
“But at least we now have some closure following these hearings and will try to get on with our lives.”
Despite saying they can never forgive Miss Leadbeater, the retired couple say they have sympathy with the 27-year-old’s family, who attended the inquest.
Her father, Simon, even shook the hand of Mr Hood at the hearing and apologised for what had happened.
Mrs Hood said: “It was a kind gesture and we appreciate that and know it wasn’t their fault.”
Miss Leadbeater’s mother, Suzanne Birch, told the inquest the events of that night had been “life-changing” for her family.
She said her daughter, who had a 10-year-old son who lives with his father, had been excited about a commercial cleaning business she had set up in Deal.
But she admitted her daughter’s lifestyle had become “erratic”, saying she seemed to be trying to relive her youth and have a party lifestyle.
In a statement read out at the inquest, she said: “This has been life-changing for us and is like a living nightmare.
"Lucy had a loving family and will miss out on her son growing up, but we have him and she will live on in him. Not a day goes by when I don’t expect her to call.”
The coroners' court was told Miss Leadbeater was uninsured and “substantially intoxicated” when she lost control of a Toyota Yaris and hit a tree on September 14, 2018.
Front-seat passenger Casey Hood, 18, was pronounced dead at the scene, while mum-of-one Miss Leadbeater died in a London hospital the following day.
The pair - who were not wearing seatbelts - had been enjoying a night out before the crash.
Witnesses told how Miss Leadbeater had drunk two large wines and a cocktail in River, near Dover, before heading to Canterbury’s Cuban nightclub.
Samples taken five hours after the crash revealed she had 87 milligrams of alcohol per 100ml of blood in her system. The legal limit is 80.
Investigators told the hearing uninsured Miss Leadbeater was at the wheel of the Yaris when it was seen being driven “erratically” near the city’s police station shortly before 4am.
An officer in a police van - who was not trained in high-speed pursuits - followed at a distance for six miles along the A2 towards Dover, with the Yaris reaching speeds of 90mph.
As the car turned off the dual-carriageway and into the B2046 Adisham Road, it pulled into a lay-by.
The officer pulled up alongside the Yaris and got out to speak to Miss Leadbeater, but she drove off at speed.
She was followed by the officer, but given a headstart after he stalled the van.
Moments later he came across the wreckage of the Yaris, which 73 seconds after pulling away had hit a tree and ended up on its side in Nethersole Road, near Woolage.
Crash investigators believe Miss Leadbeater, who lived in Hyton Drive, Deal, lost control on a bend before leaving the road.
She and Miss Hood, of Folkestone Road, Dover, both died from “unsurvivable” head injuries.
Three men the pair had met in McDonald’s that night had been in the back of the car, but one got out when it pulled into the lay-by.
Of the two that remained, one was seriously hurt and the other escaped injury.
They told police Miss Leadbeater had been driving “dangerously”, turning her headlights on and off and ignoring their calls to slow down.
One even pulled the handbrake in a failed attempt to stop her driving off.
Surprisingly, none of the men - who had been offered a lift home - were called to give evidence at the joint inquest at Maidstone’s Archbishop’s Palace.
Miss Hood’s grandfather, Ray Hood, asked crash investigator PC Jason Heather why the police van did not pull in front of the Yaris in the lay-by, claiming this could have prevented the tragedy.
PC Heather said this was outside of his investigation’s remit, and a probe by the Independent Office for Police Conduct later absolved officers of any blame.
Miss Hood’s twin sister, Kellis, gave evidence at the inquest, telling how she had been out with Miss Leadbeater at the Cricketer’s pub in River that evening.
She called Casey, who Miss Leadbeater had not met before, to ask if she wanted to join them for a drink.
Kellis had work the following day so chose to end the night early, and was dropped at her grandparents’ house in Whitfield, but her sister and Miss Leadbeater continued into Canterbury.
“I was so close to going out that night,” Kellis said previously.
“If I had gone, I would have been in that front seat, because I knew Lucy.”
Kellis told the inquest there “wasn’t something right” about the driving of Miss Leadbeater, who had borrowed a Toyota for the night.
Recording that both deaths had been due to a road traffic collision, assistant coroner Scott Matthewson said Miss Leadbeater had been “substantially intoxicated.”
“The three occupants of the car are unanimous it was been driven in a dangerous manner and there were strenuous requests by them for her to stop, “ he said.
“But it is not clear Miss Leadbeater was aware of the police presence until she pulled over in the lay-by.
“For one reason or another she lost control on a bend at significant speed.”
At a separate inquest that afternoon the coroner heard how tragedy struck the Hood family again just two days after the crash when Casey's mother was found dead at her flat.
Overcome with grief, recovering drug addict Natalie Hood had turned to heroin to "insulate her from the pain" of her daughter's death.
Her body was discovered by her own mother, Carol Hood, with a syringe by her side.
The day before she had texted friends saying she no longer wanted to live and posted on Facebook: "I just want my little girl back."
But the coroner said there was little evidence to suggest the 46-year-old had intended to take her own life.
News of Casey's death had been broken to Ms Hood as she recovered in hospital from a hip operation.
She was a long-term drug user, but her family were encouraged by the progress she had made towards getting clean through the Forward Trust drug counselling service.
Casey's death, however, pushed her to use again, and police examination of her phone revealed she bought heroin after returning home from hospital the day after Casey's death.
The following morning she was found lifeless on her sofa by her mother, who visited the flat in Temple Ewell, Dover, with food and clean washing for her daughter.
An investigation revealed Ms Hood died of a morphine overdose, with investigations showing no sign of third-party involvement.
While assistant coroner Scott Matthewson said he was satisfied Ms Hood had injected herself, he was far from sure she had intended suicide.
Concluding that her death had been "drug-related", he said he believed Ms Hood had taken heroin to "insulate her from the pain".
"She was showing good signs of progress but was simply unable to resist what had got her through difficult times in the past and injected herself with heroin to soften the blow," he said.
"But there is no proper evidence on the balance of probabilities to conclude that she intended to commit suicide and the most obvious conclusion is that this was a drug-related death.
"What is so sad is that news of Casey's death came at a time that Natalie was making progress, and one can only imagine the effect that had on her heroin addiction."
The hearing earlier had to be adjourned when Ms Hood's teenage daughter was left traumatised after a photograph of her mother's body was accidentally shown to her by police.
Kellis Hood fled the courtroom in tears after an officer mistakenly pulled the graphic picture from a folder in front of Ms Hood's family.
The 19-year-old screamed out: "I've just seen her body - I deliberately didn't want to see my mum after she died - I didn't want to remember her like that."
Her family is now planning to write to Kent Police to complain about the traumatic blunder.
It happened as they questioned Det Sgt Claire Munday, who investigated Ms Hood's death, about items in the flat.
The officer produced a folder containing photographs of the scene, including one of Ms Hood's body, which the relatives saw.
DS Munday apologised and quickly covered the image, but the hearing was adjourned after Kellis ran from the courtroom, followed by her family.
When the inquest was reconvened, assistant coroner Scott Matthewson said: "I'm extremely sorry for the family - it should not have happened and all I can do is apologise."
Speaking afterwards, Ms Hood's tearful father, Ray Hood, said: "We're appalled. It was extremely unprofessional, but we have been very disappointed by the police investigation from the start."
His wife, Carol, added: "We all saw it. It's hugely added to our grief and is terrible for Kellis, who didn't want to remember her mum like that."
Det Insp Keith Taylor confirmed the "distressing image" was "overseen by a member of the deceased’s family".
He added: "The officer immediately apologised, and I too wish to extend my apologies for any upset that has been caused.
"Our thoughts remain with the family of Natalie Hood at this difficult time."
More by this authorGerry Warren