Friday 17 November 2017

Driver jailed for fatal mistake on school run that crushed six-year-old to death

Martin Halfpenny

A SCHOOL bus driver who crushed a six-year-old boy to death when his vehicle sped out of control was jailed for 28 months today.

Adrian Shearing mistakenly hit the accelerator instead of the brake and his 67-seat DAF automatic coach sped off at 12mph, just as Nicola Connor dropped off her son Finlay on the congested road just feet from the school gates.

Finlay and Mrs Connor were trapped between his vehicle and a Fiat Punto just outside the school gates of Woodborough School in Pewsey, Wiltshire.

Mrs Connor was then dragged under the coach for 30 metres until Shearing, 52, managed to stop it. She suffered "massive injuries" to her legs, pelvis and body but Finlay never regained consciousness, Winchester Crown Court was told.

Shearing had only driven the coach owned by Bodman And Sons once before and was a part-time driver who had been employed for six months by the company to drop pupils off at various schools.

Shearing, from Trowbridge, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving on March 14 this year.

Just before the incident a tractor had scraped the side of the coach and Shearing, who was described as "annoyed but not angry", had exchanged details before getting back behind the wheel.

By this time the narrow road outside the school was blocked with another tractor waiting to get by.

Parents had parked further away and were walking in the middle of the road to get to the school gates.

Colin Meeke, prosecuting, said: "The second tractor driver, Ryan Lanfear, described hearing the bus rev hard three times and then continuously.

"He could not believe the speed that the bus took off past him. There are quite a number of witnesses who describe the high revs and shooting off at some speed."

The barrister said the Fiat was in front of the bus as it sped off.

"In a ghastly coincidence Mrs Nicola Connor was leading her son by the hand behind the Fiat just as the coach careered forward into it.

"Both were struck down. Finlay Connor received fatal injuries and did not regain consciousness.

"Mrs Connor suffered massive injuries. There was nothing whatsoever she could have done. She suffers survivors' guilt but there was nothing anyone could have done."

A visibly shaken Shearing was heard to say after the death that the brakes had failed on the coach.

But the court heard it had no defects and that Shearing had suffered sudden acceleration syndrome, a common cause of similar accidents involving automatic buses where the driver becomes confused when he presses the accelerator by mistake and not the brake and cannot understand why the vehicle will not stop.

In mitigation, the court heard Shearing was an ordinary hardworking family man with no previous convictions. He accepted the coach was out of control, and gave his heartfelt sympathy to the family.

"It was his error that caused the accident. He panicked and slammed his foot down on the accelerator," his barrister Michael Hall said.

Imposing the prison term and a three-year driving disqualification, Judge Guy Boney QC accepted Shearing's culpability in the death was low, but he said: "The consequences of your driving come very high. A life has been lost at the very outset of its course and you ultimately bear the responsibility."

Mrs Connor and Finlay's father Greg sat in the well of the court during the hearing and wept as the court was told of the events.

Afterwards the family issued a statement: "Finlay Joseph Connor was simply the most perfect son to us as parents and a wonderful big brother to Louis.

"From the moment he was born he has brought us all love and joy, he really was a shining star who lit up our lives each and every day.

"On March 14 Finlay walked hand in hand to school with his mummy, as we did each and every day, so full, as always, of excitement for the school day ahead.

"This is my last memory of Finlay, as within just moments of reaching the school gate, the school coach accelerated towards us, running us down.

"In that moment our little boy's wonderful life was ended and his family's lives destroyed.

"Now nearly seven months on, we struggle to live our lives without him. He was so adored and is so missed."

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