Beds, Herts & Bucks

Record-breaking war veteran killed in Hertfordshire crash

Jack and June Stepham
Image caption Jack and June Stepham were sitting on a bench when the car rolled towards them

A Dunkirk veteran named as one of the world's oldest siblings was killed when a car rolled into the bench he and his wife were sitting on, an inquest heard.

Jack Stepham, 94, of Turneys Orchard, Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, died in March, weeks after becoming a Guinness World Record-holder.

He and sisters Anne, 95, Belle, 98, and Clara, then 99, had been named as the oldest four siblings in the world.

Coroner Edward Thomas recorded a verdict of accidental death.

The inquest in Hatfield heard Mr Stepham, who had been held captive by the Germans during World War II, was sitting with his wife June, 84, enjoying the spring sunshine on 14 March.

'Working order'

A car parked on a hill rolled backwards 35m (115ft), hitting Mr Stepham and trapping him underneath, the inquest heard.

Paramedics and emergency services fought in vain to save his life.

The inquest was told that although its handbrake was in perfect working order, it had not been applied fully that day.

Crash investigator PC Alan Kemp of Hertfordshire Police said it had been applied to just a third of its "possible engagement" and that it had only been a matter of time before the car began to roll backwards.

The inquest heard Mr Stepham and his wife had moved into a flat in Turneys Orchard, a retirement development, 18 months earlier.

They decided to go for a stroll but couldn't walk far and stopped to sit on a bench.

Jackie Spence, a cleaner, said she had parked her Volkswagen Eos outside one of the flats in the cul-de-sac and had applied the handbrake.

Half an hour later, she ran outside to see it at the bottom of the cul-de-sac.

'In neutral'

The inquest heard it had travelled at about 10mph (16km/h), hitting the bench and ending up on a flower bed and garage wall.

Mrs Stepham managed to throw herself clear moments before the impact.

PC Simon Nash, who arrived shortly afterwards, said the car was in neutral and the handbrake was engaged "quite firmly."

The coroner said that as well as parking in gear when on a hill, drivers should turn the steering wheel so that if a vehicle did roll, it would follow a curved path.

Afterwards, Mr Stepham's sons Clive and Mark said they hoped people would heed his advice.

Mr and Mrs Stepham had been married for 63 years. After the war Mr Stepham worked in the City of London as a broker.

He had six grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Clive, 63, said: "Dad was a wonderful man. He was the best man we ever knew."

Mark, 52, said his father had been captured in Crete and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.

"While a prisoner he had a tooth pulled out with pliers," he said.

"He and a couple of other guys escaped by tunnelling but were caught three days later in woods."

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