'Drug dealer' wins Government payout following head-on collision

Sean Delaney had 240g of cannabis on him when he was involved in the accident that left him with life-threatening injuries

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A “drug dealer” who was seriously injured in a car accident is to be awarded compensation by the Government, the High Court has ruled.

Sean Delaney, 40, was travelling in a Mercedes SL500 sports car with a stash of drugs when it was involved in a head-on collision near Nuneaton in November 2006.

He had to be cut from the wreckage of the vehicle being driven by acquaintance Shane Pickett - emergency workers at the scene discovered a 240g bag of cannabis under the front of his jacket, as well as a smaller amount in Pickett’s sock.

The crash happened after Pickett, aged 34 at the time, attempted to overtake a car and smashed head-on into an oncoming people carrier on a bend. The Mercedes lifted off the ground and landed in a cottage garden.

Delaney was left with broken legs, arm and pelvis, a punctured lung and bleeding to the brain. He spent several weeks in a coma and was unable to remember details of his wife and five children when he came round.

He also had no recollection of getting into the Mercedes with Pickett, who was “more an acquaintance than a friend”, according to the Lexology legal website.

Criminal proceedings were successfully brought against Pickett in relation to his dangerous driving and the possession of cannabis but the police never interviewed or charged Delaney probably because of the severity of his injuries and traumatic amnesia, said Mr Justice Jay in London.

Pickett was jailed for 10 months at Warwick Crown Court and banned from driving for five years after admitting dangerous driving and possession of cannabis.

However, Delaney's bid to obtain compensation from Pickett's insurers failed because of an exclusion clause - although the Court of Appeal said that the claim was not barred on grounds of public policy as criminality was only the occasion, and not the cause, of the accident.

Delaney then launched a damages action against the Secretary of State for Transport, on the basis that the exclusion under a clause of the Uninsured Drivers' Agreement 1999 was incompatible with relevant EU directives.

Ruling in favour of Delaney on Tuesday on the issue of liability, the judge said that the law was clear and the minister was in serious breach of it.

He added: “Many readers may be wondering how it comes about that a drug dealer is entitled to compensation against Her Majesty's Government in circumstances where he was injured during the course of a criminal joint enterprise.

"The understandable reaction might be: there must be some rule of public policy, reflecting public revulsion, which bars such a claim. The short answer is that there is not.

“The Court of Appeal held in terms that the insurer's public policy defence failed on these facts, and that must be the end of that matter in terms of domestic law.

"The relevant European Directives clearly state that there are only limited exceptions to liability in these circumstances, and that too must be the end of the matter as a matter of Community law."

The amount of damages due to Delaney, who suffered life-threatening injuries and some ”intellectual blunting“, will be assessed at a later date.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We are disappointed with the judgment of the court despite the fact its effects will be very limited. We are looking closely at the judgment and are minded to appeal.

“Even if the judgment were to stand, claims will be excluded from compensation where serious criminality and a close connection between the crime and the accident can be shown.”

The driver of the people carrier, Peter Houston, was left with dislocated ribs and bruised kidneys, while his wife suffered a broken ankle, a broken collarbone and five broken ribs.

Their daughter and two sons were also injured, two with broken collarbones, and suffered psychological trauma.

Additional reporting by Press Association