Damian Lewis's nephew killed in collision after 'driving on wrong side of road'

Damian Lewis’s nephew died aged 20 in a car collision after driving on the wrong side of the road, five months before the death of Helen McCrory.

The Homeland actor suffered a double tragedy in the past six months, as his wife died aged 52 in April after a cancer battle, five months after his sister Amanda Yaxley’s son Hugo was killed in a car accident.

An inquest at Salisbury Coroner’s Court this week heard Mr Yaxley died at Southampton General Hospital in the early hours of November 17 last year, just hours after the crash at about 5pm on November 16.

Mr Yaxley, described as a ‘safe driver’, shouted ’s***’ moments before the crash, which left the ‘love of his life’ Minna Leatham with a broken back.

At Mr Yaxley’s inquest, his brother Tom told how his sibling overcame depression and became a fierce mental health campaigner.

He said: ‘[Hugo was] friendly, kindhearted and gregarious. He always made time for others no matter what. He had depression but he was determined not to let it rule his life. 

‘He had a plan to go and study in Spain at the University of Madrid. He was one of life’s good eggs and his cheeky smile will be missed by all that knew him.’

Tom added that his younger brother was a confident driver not known for speeding and had lots of experience driving in the area.

Computer consultant Kevin Spreadbury had been driving at 47mph on the 60mph road when Yaxley’ vehicle came at his Range Rover head-on.

Mr Spreadbury said: ‘As I was approaching the bend I saw a car coming towards me and saw the headlights.

‘The centre lines on the road were under the car, it was like it was cutting the bend and I thought the driver would correct it.

‘Inexplicably it quite deliberately cut across my lane and it was like the driver was moving towards me. The driver took no avoidable action.’

Coroner David Ridley disagreed with the suggestion that Mr Yaxley ‘deliberately’ veered towards Mr Spreadbury’s vehicle when he delivered his ruling.

Motorist Max Polinghorn, who was driving a Seat Ibiza, said when Mr Yaxley pulled up at traffic lights he was on the wrong side.

Mr Polinghorn repeatedly tried flashing his lights as he followed Mr Yaxley, adding: ‘They just kept driving normally but on the wrong side of the road.

Mr Yaxley’s friend Charles Cooke, who was sat in the back set of his Honda Jazz, said: ‘Hugo has always been a safe driver, he’s aware of the highway code and well-educated.

‘I have no idea why he was on the wrong side of the road, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and think it was a lapse. No one realised we were on the wrong side of the road, we weren’t shouting about it.’

He added that he ‘remembers Hugo panicking before the accident and said “s***” but it was too late.’

Mr Yaxley’s girlfriend Miss Leatham said she has ‘no memory of being on the wrong side of the road’ and believes she was looking at her phone’.

PC Robert Eccleston, of Wiltshire Police, said driving conditions were poor due to rain and darkness, and concluded ‘in my opinion the cause of the collision was driver error’.

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Coroner David Ridley said it was like Hugo was ‘driving on the continent’, which he had no experience doing. 

He added: ‘For reasons that are unclear, he was driving on the wrong side of the highway ever since joining the road.

‘Despite efforts to get his attention, they failed and sadly then there was the collision. As a consequence Hugo sustained injuries incompatible with life and was pronounced dead in the early hours of the following morning.

‘Only Hugo can know why he was driving on the wrong side of the road.’

The coroner concluded that the death was caused by a road traffic collision. 

Yaxley was laid to rest on December 14, and since his death, a cycling page set up in his honour has raised £16,000 for mental health and air ambulance charities, while Miss Leatham has raised a further £22,000.

Yaxley had worked with Place2be, who promote mental health with school kids, and spoken to schools about his own struggle with depression. 

He had hoped to study art and photography in Spain.

Following his death, his aunt Helen McCrory said: ‘Hugo was a very rare young man, an old soul, whose wisdom was far beyond his years.

‘Hugo wasn’t an average young man. He had already been to hell and back as a teenager battling with depression, he had conquered it, not by ridding himself of it but by refusing to allow it to stop his stride.

‘His smile was huge and broad and contagious. We will keep him alive in our hearts forever but I’m so so sad l’ll never see it again.’

Damian, 50, said: ‘The recurring theme talking to people about Hugo, is that, for one so young, he leaves an incredible legacy. He truly inspired people of his generation, through his own bravery, to be more confident and open about their mental health.

‘This is an extraordinary thing to have achieved by the age of 20. He’s touched more people in his short life than most do in their longer ones.

‘One great memory is of our family holiday in Mallorca when Hugo perfected and demonstrated (endlessly) the art of ‘bombing’ in the swimming pool. Face down mostly. For ages afterwards, we called him Bomber Yaxley. He became many other fabulous things as he got older but that fearlessness never left him. And he used it to help others. Love you Hugo.’

Sadly, just months after Yaxley’s death, the family suffered another tragedy when McCrory died on April 16. 

Damian confirmed that his wife died ‘peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family’, after the Peaky Blinders star kept her illness private.

On the cycling page set up in Yaxley’s memory, his family wrote: ‘Helen, or Aunty Helen as she was to Hugo was one his greatest supporters. She had the most amazing way of lighting up any room she was in and making everyone around her smile. She was by far the most glamorous of us all. Her passing 5 months after Hugo’s accident was another huge blow to our incredibly close knit family.

‘Helen’s massive heart, quick wit and fearlessness will be sorely missed. There is no doubt though that Hugo will already have shown her the ropes, with the best places to have a drink and a cheeky rolly. By God what a pair they will be making up there and we know that they will be looking down on us all with love and great pride.’

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