Five years' jail for Selby crash driver

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The Independent Online

The driver found guilty of causing the deaths of 10 men in the Selby train crash was today sentenced to five years in prison.

Gary Hart, a builder aged 37, had arrived at Leeds Crown Court with his wife, Elaine. He had previously been found guilty of 10 counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

A jury decided he had fallen asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover before it plunged off the M62 motorway and on to the main East Coast railway line on February 28 last year near the North Yorkshire village of Great Heck.

Moments later the Land Rover was hit by a speeding passenger train which then ploughed into a fully laden coal train. Six passengers and four rail employees died in the crash and a total of 76 people were treated in hospital.

The prosecution case was that Hart, from Strubby, Lincs, fell asleep at the wheel after spending the night before on the phone to Kristeen Panter - a woman he "met" eight days before through the Internet.

The jury heard how Hart's Land Rover was wrecked by the 117mph impact of the GNER express which then travelled another 500 yards before colliding head-on with a goods service laden with 1,600 tonnes of coal.

Hart went into the witness box to deny he had dozed off. He claimed he was "buzzing with excitement" as he prepared to meet Mrs Panter on the night of the accident for the first time.

In mitigation, Edmund Lawson QC urged the judge to keep Hart's sentence under four years. Hart had shown remorse and could never have foreseen the events that unfolded.

Mr Lawson said: "The greatest sympathy genuinely must be for the bereaved. But I invite Your Lordship not to be too hard-hearted as far as Mr Hart is concerned. No one could ever have foreseen that what did happen, would happen.

"He has been found culpable for it and must go to prison. But he will continue to suffer in relation to it as the bereaved will. To quote the stress councillor: 'The nightmares will continue'."

Mr Lawson stressed Hart had shown remorse but was interrupted by the judge, who said he had a report before him in which Hart said he was "shocked and angry" about the verdict.

The QC replied that regardless of whether Hart was guilty in a criminal sense, he was "in that vehicle that day, and that led to the deaths of all those people".

Mr Lawson added: "That he knows in his nightmares, in his sorrows and his sympathies."