Community shocked by crash tragedy

A community has been left in shock after a well-known couple were killed in a car crash in Northumberland.

Ronald and Sheila Elizabeth Smailes, from Wooler, died on Tuesday afternoon when their Ford Focus collided with a Mazda on the A697, a mile-and-a-half north of the New Moor House crossroads, near the junction with Swarland Brick Company Ltd brickworks at Thrunton.

The couple were heavily involved in the traditional music scene and were active members of Glendale Accordion and Fiddle Club. Mrs Smailes, 74, was the club secretary while her husband, 79, acted as compere.

Last night, people who knew Mr and Mrs Smailes spoke of their shock and sadness, while councillors highlighted ongoing concerns about the road.

Jimmy Straughan, who is chairman of Glendale Accordion and Fiddle Club, said: “This has just flattened us all, to be honest. Ron and Sheila are going to be missed tremendously at the club.”

They have been members far longer than me, and I’ve been here over 20 years.”

“They both did a tremendous amount for the club and played a very active role. I don’t know how we’re going to replace them.”

Mr Straughan added that both had been looking forward to the club’s 40th anniversary, which is in January.

A gathering planned for tonight at the Glendale Hall in Wooler, featuring the Gordon Brown Band, has been cancelled as a mark of respect to the couple.

County councillor for Wooler, Anthony Murray, said: “I’ve known Ron and Sheila for 15 years and what has happened is a terrible pity. It’s a great shock for the whole of Wooler that this has happened.

“The A697 is becoming busier and busier and a lot of that is due to the fact that the A1 is such a poor main road.”

Coun Glen Sanderson, whose Chevington with Longhorsley ward includes a notorious stretch of both the A1 and A697, said: “The A697 is becoming more and more of a worry now and this latest accident brings into sharper focus the fact that the road is becoming more and more dangerous.

“We are getting too many of these incidents and this is another tragic accident which brings great sadness to a number of people. It is a road that needs significantly more attention.”

Earlier this year, Coun Sanderson called for action on the road, following three serious accidents in nine days.