A ‘beautiful and wildly talented’ foreign correspondent died after a collision with a drunk motorcyclist who could have been driving three-times over the speed limit, a coroner heard.
Melissa van der Klugt, who covered south Asia and Africa for The Times and Sunday Times as well as the BBC, died aged 34 in August 2019.
A pre-inquest review at Westminster Coroner’s Court heard the motorcyclist could have faced criminal charges over Melissa’s death – but died two days later in hospital.
A toxicologist found the man, Christopher Perry, was over the drink-drive limit with a reading of 108microgrammes of ethanol found in 100ml of blood – where the limit is 80mg.
A collision report by the Met’s Roads and Transport Policing unit found he was driving at a minimum speed of 74mph – but could have been going as fast as 90mph.
The hearing heard due to the motorcyclist’s speed they “would not have been able to stop” quickly enough to avoid hitting the broadcaster and journalist, who started her career writing obituaries for The Times.
His inquest will take place after Melissa’s, a coroner said.
Melissa’s brother, Edmund, and her parents Diana and Kees van der Klugt, who are both solicitors, attended the hearing over video-link.
Amy Clarke, representing the family, said: “PC Archer has concluded the minimum speed was just under 74mph.”
Assistant coroner Bernard Richmond QC said: “Because of the range, the 74mph is what we can be sure of.”
Ms Clarke said: “I understand why the report says a minimum speed. Melissa’s family feel very strongly they want to make representations about unlawful killing – an upper level of speed at 90mph is important in respect of those submissions.”
Mr Richmond said: “70 would have got the matter to the CPS for death by dangerous driving.”
Detective Inspector Helen Craine from the Met said: “Undoubtedly.”
Mr Richmond added: “Once you double the limit without justification you are in seriously difficult territory.”
The coroner also said the family had expressed concern that there was a focus in the Met Police report about “what Melissa was perceived to do wrong.”
He said: “It’s not really on my reading of it [to be] like that. What the expert’s try to do is start the events as neutrally as they can, the expert doesn’t try to make one side of the case or the other.
“But it’s clear on my reading that the speed at which the driver was going was such that even if there had been more notice, he probably would not have had a chance of stopping.”
Mr Richmond said he would read an obituary published in The Times into the record at the inquest.
The full-page piece describes Melissa as a “tall, elegant journalist known as “‘Missy'” and an “intrepid and fearless reporter” who spent time living in Delhi.
Mr Richmond said: “You can always tell how well loved someone was by how they write about them – not just the words they say but the style they adopt.”
Paying tribute to Melissa, friend Laaleen Sukhera wrote on social media: “Melissa van der Klugt, or Missy to those of us lucky enough to have known her—was one of those rare people you meet during your lifetime who just light up your life.
“She was spirited, compassionate, beautiful and wildly talented. She was reflective and thoughtful, cultured, sensitive, witty and warm.
“She twinkled with joy and radiated kindness. She was incredibly modest about her eloquence and always so supportive of others.
“She went out of her way to be helpful. She had moments of quiet reflection broken by infectious laughter. “