Secret love affair that led to death

JAILED Russell Bennett and ex-girlfriend Claire Johnson
JAILED Russell Bennett and ex-girlfriend Claire Johnson

Vehicle crime spree hits Hayling Island

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IT WAS a secret love affair that ended in tragedy. The innocent victim was Matthew Bailey, a 22-year-old man with his whole life ahead of him.

He had never met Claire Johnson or her cheating lover Russell Bennett.

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But Matthew and his family are the ones who have paid the price for getting caught up in the fallout of the couple’s love life.

Suspecting her partner was cheating on her, Johnson had waited for Bennett to finish work at Chiquito restaurant in Gunwharf Quays.

Her friends had warned her he was two-timing her but she had fallen for his charm and was infatuated with him.

When she saw Bennett drive off with his boss, Lisa Kearney, at 2am she followed them in her car and tried to get him to pull over.

Desperate not to let his girlfriend and his new woman meet, the 24-year-old learner driver sped through the streets of Portsmouth in his Ford Focus, going through three red lights in a bid to get away.

Johnson kept up the chase in her BMW Mini, flashing her lights and calling him on his mobile.

Tragedy struck as Bennett dashed through another red light in Park Road, Landport, on the wrong side of the road, while Matthew and his friends were crossing after a night out.

Matthew stepped back and narrowly avoided the car but he was hit by Johnson’s Mini as she followed through the red light.

Johnson, who had been travelling at between 42mph and 49mph in the 30mph zone, didn’t brake or swerve out of the way.

She screeched to a halt and desperately tried to resuscitate Matthew but it was no use.

Now 25-year-old Johnson, an English teacher who had a promising career ahead of her at Springfield School in Drayton, Portsmouth, has been jailed for two years.

Bennett was jailed for 14 months at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Sentencing them Judge Sarah Munro said: ‘Matthew, like you, had led a blameless life. He, like you two, had his whole life ahead of him.

‘Your actions during the early hours of November 21, 2010, in a matter of minutes tore a family apart.

‘Nothing either of you can do or say can put that right.

‘As you look around this courtroom you can see and feel the effects that these moments have had on those close to Matthew and those close to you. It will be little, if any, comfort to them that you will each have to live with what you did for the rest of your lives – so will they.

‘Matthew was an adored son, brother and friend to many. No parent should ever have to deal with the loss of a child, especially in circumstances such as these.’

The judge added: ‘There’s no figure in months or years which will ease the pain of the loss they have suffered. Matthew’s life was priceless.’

Johnson, of Locks Road, Locks Heath, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

Bennett, who has since moved from the home the couple shared together in Whiteley to Brock Close, in Rednal, Birmingham, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving.

Both of them were banned from driving for five years.

Franco Tizzano, defending Bennett, said: ‘This is a very tragic case all round. There are no winners in this case, there are only losers.’

The court heard Johnson was an ‘emotional mess’ on the night and had tried to kill herself after the crash, due to the guilt.

Sister’s pain at loss of her brother

MATTHEW’S younger sister Kirsty Bailey says everywhere she looks she sees reminders of the brother she has lost.

The 21-year-old described Matthew as a warm, loving person, who no-one had a bad word to say about.

Kirsty sat through the sentencing of Claire Johnson and Russell Bennett with a dozen members of her family.

At times she struggled to hold back the tears but her family was there for her.

She said: ‘Losing my brother hasn’t just affected me physically and emotionally.

‘Everything I do and everything I see is just a cruel reminder of what has been stolen from us.

‘I am so tired of crying myself to sleep. I am tired of waking up every day trying to find the point of getting out of bed.

‘Most of all I am tired of seeing the same hurt and anger in all Matthew’s family and friends.’

After his death, friends of Matthew, who was born and bred in Gosport, let off Chinese lanterns at the beach he loved to visit.

More than a dozen people, including his dad Tom, of Wych Lane, Gosport, went to pay their respects at Stokes Bay in Gosport and light candles in his memory.

Thirteen months on from the tragic accident Kirsty says she is still unable to come to terms with what happened.

‘At 21, I should be carefree, making the most of my youth,’ she said.

‘I’m just waiting on the day I finally accept what has happened.’

Mother’s touching tribute to loving Matthew

‘I should be tidying his bedroom not his grave.’

Those are the words of a mother unable to come to terms with the tragic loss of her 22-year-old son.

Matthew Bailey was killed instantly as he crossed the road with friends after a night out in Portsmouth.

In a matter of seconds, the lives of his mother, Anne Hayes and of all those who knew and loved Matthew were changed forever.

Ms Hayes was at Portsmouth Crown Court to see Claire Johnson and Russell Bennett sentenced over the crash that took Matthew’s life.

Much of the packed public gallery was reduced to tears as the touching tribute from Ms Hayes, printed in full above, was read out.

In it she speaks of how their family has been shattered by the crash on November 21 last year.

She recalls the last time she saw Matthew.

He had been working as a scaffolder in Jersey but was back home in Gosport for the weekend.

He was joking and laughing and looking forward to a night out with his friends.

As he went out of the door and said goodbye there was no way his mother could know it would be the last time she would see him alive.

‘Eight hours later I was saying goodbye to him in hospital and being told I could not touch him as he was part of a crime scene,’ she said.

Ms Hayes says she still tries to tell herself that her son is working away, as the terrible truth is too much to bear.

‘He was so happy with his new job and full of plans for the future,’ she said. ‘He was going to go abroad for the first time when he had saved enough.

‘Thinking of all the things he will never do and all the times he won’t be there is just unbearable.’

Matthew’s parents, who are separated, had two other children, a son and a daughter together and Matthew’s dad Tom Bailey, also has another son and daughter.

‘I can’t make it better for Matt, or my other son and daughter and as their mum that is one of the things that I find so hard to accept,’ she said.

‘These feelings are also shared with his dad. He also has two other children aged five and two.

‘They will never know how special their big brother was. The youngest will have no real memories of him and those we try and share with her will be overshadowed by the way he died.’