A FORMER Burnley mayor had a “lucky escape” when he was catapulted from his car in a high-speed smash.

Police said Rafique Malik, was travelling on the M66 northbound when he lost control of his Toyota Corolla and hit a tree.

Yesterday the 71-year-old was said to be “comfortable” in Fairfield Hospital, Bury, and was only suffering from suspected cracked ribs.

And members of the local community expressed relief after the “popular” figure escaped major injury.

Meanwhile his son Shahid Malik, who is Labour MP for Dewsbury, cancelled all of his engagements yesterday to be at his father’s bedside.

Watch Commander Steve Wilcock, of Bury Fire Station, said his crew were called to extinguish a burning car, but helped paramedics tend to the driver.

He said car had lost control and spun around before hitting a tree at the roadside.

As a result of the collision he said the driver was thrown from the vehicle through the rear window.

He described the accident as “very serious.”

He added: “When we arrived the casualty was lying on the floor and the car was stopped.

“We made the car safe and then helped paramedics put him on a stretcher.”

Mr Malik served Daneshouse with Stoneyholme Ward as Labour councillor for 30 years and was Burnley’s first Asian Mayor.

Coun Mohammed Iqbal, leader of the Labour party in Pendle, said: “I’m glad he is on the road to recovery and I wish him a speedy recovery. He’s been prevalent in the community for the last 40 years, so people like me look up to him.

“Quite clearly he’s had a lucky escape. Judging by the way the accident has occurred on the motorway he is lucky to have survived and walked away with minor injuries.”

Current Daneshouse with Stoneyholme ward Coun Wajid Khan said he also knows Mr Malik very well and that the pair are “very good friends.”

He added: “It’s a very shocking piece of news. On behalf of the whole community I would like to wish him a speedy recovery.

"Our prayers and wishes are with him and his family. He is an amazing person who did some great things in the community.”

A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police said no other vehicles were involved in the collision at around 7.15pm on Thursday.

Fairfield Hospital yesterday confirmed Mr Malik was “stable and comfortable” but was expected to remain in hospital under observation.

Mr Malik has been both chair and vice-chair of the Burnley Racial Equality Council over a period spanning 20 years.

He has been cabinet member on the council for social exclusion and welfare and chairman of the Jinnah Community Development Trust.

He is now retired but with a background that includes teaching, politics, housing, race equality, and neighbourhood renewal.

Mr Malik was born in Lalamusa, Gujurat, Pakistan, and after completing his education he started his career as a teacher in Pakistan, before arriving in the UK in the early sixties.

His son, Shahid Malik, was elected as Labour MP for Dewsbury in 2005.