Melissa Van Der Klugt was killed by a drunk motorcyclist, an inquest heard
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A talented foreign correspondent was killed by a drunk motorcyclist speeding at a “demonic rate” of around 80mph.
Melissa Van Der Klugt, 34, was walking home from the supermarket when she was hit by a motorcyclist who was one-and–half times over the drink-drive limit.
The journalist, who wrote obituaries for The Times and Sunday Times and featured on BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, died at the scene near Battersea Park, south London, in August 2019.
The motorcyclist died in hospital a day later from a traumatic head injury.
Melissa’s grief-stricken mother, Diana, told her inquest: “What happened to her on that last evening was terrifying, brutal, horrific, savage, senseless and utterly tragic.
Melissa died at the scene near Battersea Park, south London
“It was an act of reckless violence directed potentially towards anyone and everyone.
“A young woman who had survived the hazards of travelling alone… only to be killed on the streets of London, just a few yards from her home on a road which was so familiar to her. which she had crossed hundreds of times before and where she should, if anywhere, have been safe.
“But on that evening there was as at large a terrible danger which she could not possibly have contemplated.
“A vehicle accelerating at such a demonic rate, to such a high speed towards her along that suburban street, that it was in effect a killing machine.”
Westminster Coroner’s Court heard Christopher Perry, 40, took off so quickly at the traffic lights that the front wheel “lifted off the road”.
A car had stopped to allow Melissa to cross the road, but Perry did not stop and collided with Melissa between 73 and 90mph, it was said.
Melissa has been described as an "intrepid and fearless reporter"
An investigator from the Met Police said it was not possible to know the exact speed, but he believed it to be around 80mph.
Toxicology reports found Perry had 109 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of blood – where 80mg is the limit – but it could have been as high as 120mg at the time of the crash.
But his speed meant there would not have been enough time to react to seeing Melissa even if he had been sober, the inquest heard.
PC Jeremy Archer for the Met Police told the inquest: “The slowest he could have accelerated to before the collision is 73mph.
“At that speed, anything under 40 metres away from you, you are not going to have time to react to.
“It could have been higher than that. If he had accelerated at a constant rate and up to the point of collision, he would have been doing 90mph.”
Witnesses described seeing the writer, who was just days from seeing her boyfriend for the first time in a year, flying up into the air after being struck in the leg and then landing in the road.
The inquest heard Melissa suffered a fractured skull, broken ribs and fractures to her left leg and arms.
Despite urgent attempts to revive her, she was pronounced dead at the scene around 20 minutes after the crash.
Detective Inspector Helen Craine from the Met said: “If Mr Perry had been alive he would have been arrested for a drink drive procedure and a drug swab for bloods or urine analysis.
“I think it would have been a charge for death by dangerous driving.”
Mrs Van Der Klugt told the coroner how she was due to meet her daughter with Melissa’s father, Kees, and brother Edmund, at the theatre that evening.
Melissa – known as Missy – was described as “tall and elegant” and an "intrepid and fearless reporter", who left her staff job at The Times to report from Africa and Asia, including the Rohingya camps of Delhi and the Himalayan foothills.
Reading a tribute, Mrs Van Der Klugt said: “There was always friendship and laughter and colourful portraits of these exploits to messages home to family and friends, and through her journalism and broadcasting.
“A senior colleague at the time said she would undoubtedly have had a distinguished career as a writer for many many years; someone else commented she was really only just getting started.
“I can hear her now beside me as I struggle to write and read this asking, ‘Mummy what is this inquest heading, that would mean I’m dead, that is ridiculous’.
“It is inconceivable, how can this terrible thing have happened to you, and you are no longer with us? How could I have let this happen, how could I not have protected you?
Her inquest was held at Westminster Coroner's Court
(Image: National Pictures)
“It is unbearable that you are no longer with us. Not wanting to wake up each morning and face another day without you.
“I feel so desperately sad and sorry for all those years of life of which you have been robbed. Perhaps 50 to 60 years, years that would have been rich in experience and intellectual growth, productive and full of achievement.
“There’s so many more stories to tell, doing your bit to make the world a better place I’m sure, but most of all, full of friendship, love and joy, stolen from you by grotesque selfishness and recklessness.”
Melissa had just finished the final chapter of a children’s book she was writing, and was on her way back from picking up dinner ingredients when she was struck down at a crossing, the court heard.
Her family hope to publish the book, describing it as her ‘last gift’ to family and friends.
Assistant coroner Bernard Richmond QC said: “It is clear that on the 30th August 2019 the world became a darker place when one of its stars Melissa Catherine Van Der Klugt had her life taken away from her in a collision with a motorcycle.
“Such was the inability of the driver to control the motorcycle that this incident cost him his life as well.
“Any reasonable driver would have perceived that there was an obvious and serious risk that if any person had got in the way of that bike, that person would suffer serious injury or death.
“Once the motorcyclist embarked at the speed he embarked knowingly and deliberately, the die was cast. The dangers of people driving motorcycles or vehicles at high speed cannot be underestimated.”
In Mr Perry’s inquest, Barbara Perry told the coroner her son had been at the pub with his girlfriend on the day of the crash.
On hearing the coroner had recorded a verdict of unlawful killing in the death of Mrs Van Der Klugt, Mrs Perry said: “He would have been mortified.”
His sister Amy added: “He would not have been able to live with himself, knowing he had done that.”