Death crash driver 'made announcement while speeding on bend'

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The Independent Online

A National Express coach driver caused a terrifying crash which killed three passengers and injured dozens of others as he gave a safety announcement while speeding around a bend, a court heard today.

Philip Rooney, 49, was speaking over the vehicle's public address system while trying to negotiate a 40mph bend at 55mph when he lost control.

It caused the double-decker coach, carrying 69 passengers, to overturn and skid along its side on the M4/M25 slip road near Heathrow Airport.

Rooney was driving like he was "possessed" before the crash - probably in a bid to make up for lost time following a delay caused by a luggage problem, a judge was told.

Many of those on the overnight London to Aberdeen service had to be cut from the wreckage on 3 January last year.

Christina Toner, 76, from Dundee, and 30-year-old Yi Di Lin, a Chinese national, died following the crash.

John Carruthers, 78, of Chertsey, Surrey, died six months later in hospital.

Another 65 people were injured, including four who had to have amputations and 19 who suffered fractures.

Father-of-three Rooney, of Larkshill Drive, Carluke, Scotland, was appearing for sentence at Oxford Crown Court today after pleading guilty at a previous hearing to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

The court heard that Rooney, who had a co-driver, set off from Victoria bus station in central London, bound for Scotland, in the almost new 82-seater vehicle just after 10.30pm on 3 January.

Richard Latham QC, prosecuting, said tachograph readings showed he consistently broke speed limits as the coach made its way to the next pick-up point at Heathrow Airport.

Rooney's driving caused luggage to fall from the shelf as he took a corner and the vehicle clipped a kerb coming into the airport, said Mr Latham.

A number of passengers were returning home from Christmas holidays and, the court heard, the coach was heavily laden.

Rooney had to call a taxi to transport one family's luggage because there was no room on the coach - causing a delay of more than half an hour before it set off again.

Mr Latham said: "A number of passengers noted the vehicle was being driven significantly faster, as if the driver was seeking to make up for lost time."

The court heard that, as the coach made its way towards the slip road for the M25, there was a warning sign indicating that the maximum speed for the bend should be 40mph.

At the vehicle took the bend it was travelling at 55mph, the tachograph showed.

The coach clipped a barrier and Rooney tried to correct its path by steering away but lost control.

Mr Latham said the vehicle skidded around and began travelling sideways before striking a crash barrier and flipping over.

The court was told that a number of passengers recalled that, in the seconds before the crash, the driver had been giving a safety announcement over the tannoy.

Mr Latham said passengers recalled hearing screams and the microphone crackling before the voice stopped.

Other passenger accounts read to the court by Mr Latham stated that luggage was being dislodged by heavy braking as Rooney sped along.

One said: "After Heathrow the driver drove like he was possessed. He kept overtaking everything and going like the clappers."