AN 86-year-old Aldershot driver, stopped by a police patrol for driving erratically, died in a head-on crash shortly after he was allowed to continue on his way.

Retired travelling salesman Douglas Helder drove the wrong way along a dual carriageway two hours after being spoken to by a police officer.

He died from multiple injuries after his Fiat Regatta was in collision with a Peugeot 406 travelling towards him at about 70mph on the A31 Alton bypass, an inquest at Basingstoke heard.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded on Mr Helder, a widower, described by a neighbour as "one of the most honest and caring people you could ever wish to meet".

The tragic chain of events started when he set out after dark one evening last November to drive from his home in Upper St Michael's Road, Aldershot, to Farnham Bowls Club.

During the journey he became confused and drove to Guildford before being stopped at Liss by PC Mark Tucker.

He had received a message to be on the look out for Mr Helder's Fiat because a motorist had expressed concern at the erratic way it was being driven.

PC Tucker told the inquest: "When I started to follow the Fiat it was being driven at about 27mph and it was weaving."

He stopped Mr Helder who told him he was lost and looking for Aldershot.

"He seemed quite alert," said. PC Tucker who added that, even if he had been concerned about Mr Helder's mental state; he had no legal right to take him off the road.

The procedure would have been to submit a report to the DVLA the next day.

Another police patrol officer, PC John White, guided Mr Helder back to the A325 as far as Whitehill.

"We stopped there and I advised him that if he stayed on that road it would take him back to Aldershot," said PC White. "He said he knew the road because it took him past Bird World."

Shortly after, Mr Helder took a wrong turning on to the A31 dual carriageway and collided with the Peugeot 406 being driven by Richard Page, a chef at a Farnham hotel.

Mr Page, who sustained serious chest injuries and was in intensive care for five days, told the inquest: "I was overtaking two cars when I saw the headlights coming towards me. Then there was an almighty smash."

Sometime prior to the accident Mr Helder had attended a voluntary Older Driver Assessment course run by Hampshire County Council.

His assessor, Michael Downey, said Mr Helder appeared to be mentally agile and didn't give him a sense of danger while driving over familiar routes in Aldershot. He therefore saw no reason to advise him to stop driving.

Coroner Andrew Bradley said: "It's a matter of great sadness."