‘Light of God’ death driver is cleared

John Stoker
John Stoker

A former South Ribble councillor was killed in a head-on smash after his driver believed he was heading towards a ‘portal to heaven’, a court heard.

Ex-Labour councillor and activist John Stoker, 77, from Leyland Road, Penwortham, was a passenger in a Vauxhall Corsa car being driven by his friend, James Payne, 23.

In May last year, Payne, who was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time, said he thought the bright headlamps of an oncoming BMW were the “lights of God”. He believed his actions would instantly transport him to the “good side” and that other cars on the road were not real.

Mr Stoker died in hospital 10 days later after suffering horrific injuries.

Today, as Payne was cleared on the grounds of insanity by Manchester Crown Court of dangerous driving, Mr Stoker’s friends told of their upset, saying he was “missed” in South Ribble.

And one community leader questioned why Payne was allowed to drive, saying failure to stop him meant Mr Stoker “had to pay with his life”. The Evening Post understands that Mr Stoker was aware of Payne’s mental condition. But he believed Payne would respond to him and wanted to remain his companion.

Coun Jim Hothersall, a friend of Mr Stoker, said: “It was tragic. John was a tireless campaigner and the community has lost a great asset.”

Payne pleaded not guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and a jury at Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court took just five minutes to clear him on the grounds of insanity.

The jury had been told that it was a “highly unusual” trial, as the defence evidence about his mental state was not challenged by the Crown.

The jury heard that Mr Payne, of Patterdale Avenue, Urmston, Greater Manchester, had earlier been with his friend Mr Stoker to see a Pirates of the Caribbean film at the Trafford Centre.

He had been unnerved by a fight scene early in the screening and wanted to leave before the end.

Mark Kellet, prosecuting, said Mr Payne had become increasingly distressed and agitated on the drive back to Urmston, when without warning he suddenly veered into the oncoming carriageway on Lostock Road, colliding with the BMW.

Judge Lever asked to see further medical reports on Payne, and has imposed an immediate interim driving ban.