Thursday 22 February 2018

Hero female soldier killed hitchhiker after surfing net on phone while driving

Hitch-hiker Ashley Taylor Credit: Slater and Gordon/PA Wire
Hitch-hiker Ashley Taylor Credit: Slater and Gordon/PA Wire

Ben Kendall

A hero female soldier who defused 60 Taliban bombs during a tour of Afghanistan killed a hitch-hiker after surfing the internet on her mobile phone while driving.

Captain Alison Dray, 31, from Rochester, Kent, is the only female British bomb disposal expert to complete a full tour of Afghanistan and received a Queen's commendation for her work.

But today she sobbed in the dock at Norwich Crown Court as prosecutors outlined how she killed unemployed Ashley Taylor, 32, on January 8 last year.

She was jailed for nine months after admitting causing death by dangerous driving and her Army career now hangs in the balance.

The court heard she had been "extensively" using her iPhone in the moments leading up to the crash and mounted the kerb, killing Mr Taylor instantly.

Mr Taylor's mother, Jane, told of her pain in a victim impact statement, describing her son from Watton, Norfolk, as having a "heart of gold".

"He is on my mind every single day, it doesn't get better for me in fact it's getting harder, if anything," she added.

Dray's barrister, Michael Clare, told how the Royal Logistics Corp member previously completed a seven-month tour of Afghanistan where she was responsible for disposing of at least 60 deadly Taliban improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

A number of references from Army colleagues outlining her courage were handed to the court.

Mr Clare said: "This involved brain-freezing, unimaginable bravery, bending over IEDs and allowing soldiers and civilians to go about their business.

"There is nothing to be gained by depriving this defendant of her liberty and this country of one its finest assets".

Judge Anthony Bate said he had no option but to jail her - but said the Army should consider allowing her to continue in her role when released.

He said: "You are a decorated soldier of previous exemplary character. You have served our country bravely and with distinction.

"It is plain that your remorse is sincere and profound - you have an intelligent and heartfelt understanding of the misery several seconds of inattention has brought on this family."

He added that working in such hostile terrain where a soldier's "every move may be their last" often had a lasting impact on their return to the UK.

Colonel Adam McCrae, who is in charge of Army discipline, told the court that if jailed, Dray, who received the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in 2008 for her work in Afghanistan and has also completed tours of Iraq, would ordinarily be immediately dismissed upon receiving a jail term.

Dray had been driving a hired Mitsubishi 4x4 on the A1075 while undergoing training in Norfolk.

Prosecutor Christopher Morgan said forensic examinations of her tyre tracks suggested she had mounted the kerb before hitting Mr Taylor at about 12:25pm.

Although she denied she was using the phone at the moment of impact, Mr Morgan added: "It is quite clear that up until about 50 seconds prior to the collision there was extensive use of the mobile phone

"This included accessing an internet site with details of a hotel in Switzerland and taking a screenshot on the phone."

Mr Clare said: "In cases like this there are no winners, there's just tragedy all round.

"She had been using the mobile phone during the journey but not at the time of the collision.

"She does feel genuine remorse for what happened."

Pc Charlie Savage, who investigated the case, said: "I'm simply astonished that people would risk their lives and those of others to look up hotels while driving. Using your mobile phone for anything - be it phone calls, texts, social media and website access - is an offence and extremely dangerous, proved by this incident.

"Two lives have been shattered by this case; Mr Taylor's life has been cut short while Dray's promising career in the Army hangs in the balance as a result of poor decision-making.

"Hopefully this sentence sends a clear message to motorists that using a mobile behind the wheel simply isn't worth the risk."

Press Association

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