Driver cleared of responsibility for young man’s death on M40 near Leamington

Court report
Court report

The driver of a BMW which hit and killed a young man after his car had been flung into a motorway crash barrier by an artic has been cleared of responsibility for his death.

And the driver of the HGV that triggered the tragic accident has had the charge he faces at Warwick Crown reduced following legal submissions at the end of the prosecution case.

Lorry driver George Carr (64) of The Hurn, Digby, Lincs, had denied causing Alex Butwell’s death on the M40 near Gaydon in March last year by dangerous driving.

BMW driver Donald Corrigan (67) of Butt Lane, Allesley, Coventry, pleaded not guilty to causing the 25-year-old’s death by driving without due care and attention.

And following lengthy legal submissions at the end of the prosecution case, Judge Sylvia de Bertodano ruled that Corrigan had no case to answer - and entered a not guilty verdict on him.

She also ruled that Carr had no case to answer on the charge of causing Mr Butwell’s death by dangerous driving – but that the trial against him should continue on a less serious charge of causing death by careless driving.

The jury had heard that Alex, with his girlfriend and a friend in his VW Polo, was at the head of a convoy of 11 car enthusiasts on their way to a show at Santa Pod Raceway on an unlit section of the M40 in south Warwickshire at around 5am.

Carr, who also heading south, pulled out to overtake the convoy, and as he began to pull back in the artic’s cab struck the Polo, sending it spinning in front of the lorry which then shunted it along before it was thrown into the central Arnco barrier.

After he and his two passengers got out of the car, which had come to rest sticking out into the fast lane, Alex, from Tividale, Oldbury, was struck and killed by Corrigan’s BMW.

But giving evidence, accident investigator Pc Colin Humphreys said he and defence expert Peter Jennings agreed that if Alex had speeded up as he was being overtaken.

The accident reconstruction experts agreed that Carr’s lorry ‘was travelling at a constant speed of 56mph in the seconds before colliding with Mr Butwell’s car.’

And if Alex had not accelerated, it was calculated that the rear of the artic would have been a safe 37 metres in front of the Polo when Carr began to pull back in.

As it was, the Polo’s acceleration meant it may well have remained in the lorry driver’s blind spot, Pc Humphreys accepted.

And the experts agreed that, with the BMW on dipped beam at 50-60mph, there would only had been ‘significant illumination’ of the crashed Polo for 1-1.5 seconds before impact.

That would have been time for Corrigan to begin evasive action ‘but insufficient time to stop or change lanes.’

Explaining her rulings, which had been made in their absence, Judge de Bertodano told the jury that in the light of that evidence, ‘there was no way you could be asked to find Mr Corrigan guilty’ or that Carr had been driving dangerously.

The trial then continued with Carr giving evidence.

He said he had worked for poultry suppliers Moy Park for 35 years, and as an HGV driver with the firm for 23 years.

He said he had gone to bed at 6pm the previous evening and got up at 1am before leaving home an hour later and driving to the Moy Park distribution centre about eight miles away.

He explained that at the time his refrigerated artic came up behind the convoy on the M40 he was on his way to make a KFC delivery to Banbury, and had then been due to deliver more chicken to Tesco in Coventry.

Travelling on his ‘limiter’ at 56mph, he was going faster than the convoy, so checked his mirrors and pulled out into the second lane to overtake it.

Asked by his barrister Tom Walkling what he did when he reached the head of the convoy, Carr said: “After 5-6 seconds I checked in my nearside mirror and saw a car about half-way down my trailer with its lights on.

“I carried on again for another 5-6 seconds and checked in my mirror again and saw headlights to the rear of my trailer.”

Asked what he thought those lights were, he responded: “The car I had just overtaken, the first one in the convoy.

“It was a fair way behind. I checked once again, to be sure, and then indicated and commenced my manoeuvre into lane one.

“I always check a second time and then I indicate. I just seen the two headlights at the rear of my trailer still.”

He was asked whether he had seen anything untoward or felt anything, and he replied: “Nothing at all.”

Carr said one of his wheels touched the rumble strip as he pulled in, and he then continued towards Banbury, unaware that anything had happened until another car from the convoy drew alongside him and the passenger shouted for him to pull over. The trial continues.