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‘My father’s final days with the virus will be branded on my brain forever’

Son was called to say goodbye to much-loved cabbie three times before his Covid death

05 June, 2020 — By Tom Foot

John Morton during his days as a cab driver

A RETIRED police investigator has recounted his father’s final days in hospital in a sobering reminder of the chaos of the coronavirus peak.

John Morton, a black cab driver who lived in the Regent’s Park estate all his life, finally succumbed to Covid-19 aged 90 on March 31.

His son Stuart Morton, 60, was called into University College Hospital on three separate occasions to say a last farewell. Mr Morton said: “I’ve seen the burnt-out, the ­chopped-up and whatever, I worked the London bombings, anti terrorism. Ten years of murder inquiries. But none of that, none of it, has been imprinted on my brain like what I saw in those final days in hospital.”

He said his father had been in the hospital in Euston for a fortnight before doctors rang to say he had caught the virus and had 24 hours to live.

Mr Morton, who has lived in Robert Street since 1960, said: “There were lots of people in there who caught it in hospital I think. It makes me feel horrible, because everyone is clapping for the NHS. But for me he only caught it in one place, and that was in hospital.

“I was given protective gear, but just the small paper gear – masks, gloves and an apron. Everyone else was dressed up like Stars Wars. “What I’ve got to blame is the current Government. They purely ignored the advice about what was happening. If they had introduced lockdown measures earlier, god knows how many would have survived.”

Mr Morton described how he saw his father “lying there like a panting dog, trying to clasp on to every single last breath of life,” adding: “He was trying to stay around for me as much as he could. I said ‘Johnny, I’m here, I’m here’. I’d like to think he looked at me and said ‘I know’.

John Morton with son Stuart

“I’m stroking his head, getting no response, saying everything I thought I needed to say to him. I was there for 45 minutes, then I left, thinking he would die overnight. But the next day I get a call saying he’s still alive, did I want to go back again? “I did and in there I opened his eye-lid a couple of times – there was an eye ball there, but it was not really with me. I said goodbye and I was expecting that to be that.

“Then on Monday they rang and saying he’s fine, do I want to go back again? So I did, I went and did it all over again. What I saw that day is branded on my brain. He was so frail – if you were a vet, and you saw an animal like that, you would put him down. I was saying ‘don’t hang on for me Johnny, please go’. I got a call on the Tuesday, and he had passed away.”

He added: “John was not only my father, he was my life and the greatest best friend a man could ever have had. It’s just me now on my own in the whole world. The hardest part of all the three times I went in to say my final words was not once being able to kiss him goodbye.”

John Morton started work aged 12, on a horse-drawn milk cart doing deliveries around Camden Town.

He later got a job at sheet metal firm Frank V McGreenies in Royal College Street, initially being posted to the roof to keep lookout for approaching bomber planes.

“He had this amazing talent that he could make anything out of sheet metal – you could give him a drawing of anything, and he would just make it,” said his son.

He was called up for National Service in 1947 and joined the Royal Engineers before being posted to Egypt for two and half years.

Aged 40, he did the Knowledge and went on to work as a cabby until he was 80 years old.

He was a regular at the cabbies’ cafe Granby Grill in the Regent’s Park estate and the Double Six Cafe in Eversholt Street. A season ticket holder at Fulham, he used to drive Bobby Charlton from the rank in Euston to matches after striking a deal with the Manchester United midfielder.

“He’d take Bobby to wherever he was playing in London, park up, go to the game, and take him and whoever back to Euston to get the train back up to Manchester. In those days players made their own way to games, He had Dennis Law, Styles, Charlton – the lot of them in his cab.”

The funeral at Golder’s Green Crematorium

Stuart Morton worked as a gardener on the Regent’s Park estate, and for several departments at Camden Council before getting a staff job with the Met Police working alongside detectives. He recalled favourite walks with his father along the Southbank in the 60s in “Jack the Ripper territory” that would “frighten the life out of me as a kid”.

Mr Morton said: “John knew everything about the area. If you look at top of Christchurch [Albany Street], you look at the top of the church and you can see that the spire is broken. John saw that happening. It was a parachute getting caught on the spire.”

John’s wife Rose was the principal officer in Camden Council’s chief executive’s department. The couple “thought nothing of jumping on a tandem bike and cycling down to Southend and back in the day”, said Mr Morton.

In later life, John learned to speak fluent Italian and became a self-taught artist, specialising in oils and acrylics. He could often be seen “flying around the estate and up to Morrison’s on his mobile scooter”, but had been “ill for a long time”.

“He was fan of [the singer] Joe Longthorne and so I wrote to him asking if he could give him a little inspiration. The most beautiful Christmas card arrived all hand written by Joe, with all the words of inspiration he was thinking about.”

Mr Longhorne’s You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me and If I Never Sing Another Song were played at Mr Morton’s funeral in Golders Green last month.

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