A1(M) lorry crash killed Educating Rita star’s parents

Jessica Johnson was playing the title role in Educating Rita when she received the devastating news her parents had been involved in a major crash on the A1(M) in Durham in July 2021.

They had been sat in stationary traffic on the section of motorway when a lorry driver ploughed into vehicles and careered 100 metres along the carriageway as his cab burst into flames.

Three people - couple David Daglish and Elaine Sullivan from Seaham, County Durham, and Paul Mullen from Washington, Tyne and Wear - were killed instantly.

The Northern Echo: David Daglish, and Elaine Sullivan, from Seaham, with Paul Mullen, rightDavid Daglish, and Elaine Sullivan, from Seaham, with Paul Mullen, right

Lorry driver Ion Onut had been looking at adult dating sites on his phone looking for sexual partners when he ploughed his Scania truck into them.

Last year Onut, of Galashiels in Scotland, admitted three counts of causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed for eight years and ten months at Durham Crown Court.

He later made a tearful apology from his jail cell in a BBC documentary[2].

The star, who previously appeared on Coronation Street, was back on stage just hours after the double funeral of her mum and stepdad.

Her Educating Rita co-star Stephen Tompkinson told ITV’s Lorraine on Friday: “She (Jessica) went into this incredible mode, I don’t know how she did it.

“A few weeks later attended the double funeral of her mum, stepdad and was then back on stage that night in Kingston-upon-Thames.

“A lorry driver behind them, who we then found out was sexting on his phone on an adult dating hook-up site, didn’t see the traffic, hadn’t stopped and ploughed into them at 56 miles an hour killing them instantly, and the driver of the car in front, and injured people in other vehicles.”

In a BBC documentary last year Elaine's son Junior Sullivan recounted the "devastating" moment he found out his mum and stepdad had been killed[3].

He said: “My wife came in 5/6 in the morning – she handed me the phone and at the other end of the phone, they told me that my mum had been involved in a car crash and had died and then told me that my dad had also been killed."

Tompkinson, 57, was cleared by a jury earlier this month of causing grievous bodily harm after being accused of punching a drunk man in the head and leaving him with a brain injury outside the actors Whitley Bay home in the early hours of May 30, 2021.

He said Johnson was “amazing” and a “shining light” for him through his trial.

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The DCI Banks star added: “If you ever needed an example of strength and a shining light, she has been that throughout and looked after me through this.

“I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

“Jess was amazing, and frankly, my problems went into a top hat six weeks later when Jess’s parents were sitting in stationary traffic in Durham.”


  1. ^ Killer who sparked national manhunt admits murdering Sunderland grandmother (www.thenorthernecho.co.uk)
  2. ^ made a tearful apology from his jail cell in a BBC documentary (www.thenorthernecho.co.uk)
  3. ^ recounted the "devastating" moment he found out his mum and stepdad had been killed (www.thenorthernecho.co.uk)
  4. ^ Click here (www.thenorthernecho.co.uk)