Published: 09:30, 31 July 2017
A former head teacher drove his car into the back of lorry at high speed two days before he was due to face rape and sex abuse allegations.
Graham Priest, 54, died when his black Citroën C4 smashed into the HGV parked in a lay-by on the A249 Sheppey-bound near his hometown of Sittingbourne on Saturday, January 14.
Today an inquest at Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone heard there is no evidence the former boarding school head turned salesman intended to take his own life.
The inquiry was led by assistant coroner Katrina Hepburn and heard evidence from family, doctors and two Kent Police officers involved into the investigation.
PC Robin Youngs, who examined the scene of the crash, said Mr Priest’s car was heading towards Sittingbourne when it left the carriageway. It struck a curb, damaging the offside front tyre to deflate before continuing over a traffic island into the back of the lorry.
There was no evidence Mr Priest applied the brakes before impact and fatigue, weather conditions and distraction at the wheel weren’t felt to be a factor.
The driver of the Romanian HGV had stopped legally in the side road for a rest break, leaving enough room for large vehicles to pass.
Shortly before 7pm he felt a bang and got out to find Mr Priest’s car partially underneath the back of the trailer, and used a fire extinguisher to put out a small fire before phoning police.
Mr Priest suffered serious injuries and died at the scene.
Mr Priest worked at Falcon Manor boarding School, near Towcester, Northamptonshire, before it closed in 1999.
On Monday, January 16 he was to face a charge of rape against a woman over 16 dating back to 1988, three counts of indecent assaults on girls and two on women aged over 16, dating between 1995 and 1998.
The hearing was told the Peregrine Drive resident intended to plead not guilty to the offences and felt positive about the upcoming court case. He had packed his bags and was preparing for a week long stay in Northampton where he would be joined by family.
Mark Robinson, detective constable, said his investigation found while the prospect of court case could not be ignored, there was nothing to indicate Mr Priest had mental health problems or intended to kill himself. He was captured on security footage at Medway Services behaving normally.
Recording a narrative conclusion, Katrina Hepburn, assistant coroner, said there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude suicide, misadventure or accidental death.
She said: "On the 14th of January Mr Graham Priest died as a result of crush asphyxia when the vehicle he was driving on the A249 Maidstone Road impacted with the rear of a stationary lorry parked in a layby."
Steve Priest, Graham’s brother, said his brother was a caring man who went out of his way to help others.
He said: “I want to thank the police and coroner’s office for the sensitive way they have handled my brother’s death during what is a difficult time”.
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