Jailed Selby crash driver mounts bid for release

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The Independent Online

The motorist who was jailed for causing the deaths of 10 people in the Selby rail disaster is seeking to have his conviction quashed after claiming new evidence exonerates him.

Gary Hart, 37, was sentenced to five years in prison in January last year after being convicted of 10 charges of dangerous driving. Four railway staff and six passengers died in February 2001 after Hart fell asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover and crashed off the road onto the railway line, a court ruled. But Hart is claiming he was not asleep and that the crash was an unavoidable accident.

Survivors and relatives of the victims of the crash were highly critical of Hart's sentence which they argued was too lenient and half the maximum penalty. News that he is attempting to have the conviction overturned is bound to cause further anger.

Hart's case is being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission and could be referred to the Court of Appeal if they consider there is enough new evidence to cast doubt on the conviction. The court can uphold the conviction, quash it, or order a retrial.

Hart, a father of four children, is understood to have submitted documents in which he argues he did not fall asleep in his vehicle, but crashed the car after a rear tyre burst. He argues skid marks on the motorway prove he was awake at the time and reacted to the blowout by braking hard.

Further submissions include arguments that ballast - the stones and chippings that hold the sleepers in place - at the side of the track was substandard. He is also critical of the legal submission made on his behalf.

The crash happened when Hart's Land Rover, towing a car on a trailer, ran off the M62 and plunged down an embankment on to the east coast main line just as the 4.45am London-bound express from Newcastle arrived at a spot near the North Yorkshire village of Great Heck at 6.12am on 28 February. The resulting collision derailed the passenger train but it remained upright.

However, a set of points 400 yards down the line pushed it into the path of an oncoming freight train, which was running early. The two trains met head-on at a combined speed of 147 mph.

The prosecution maintained that Hart, a construction company boss from Strubby, Lincolnshire, had fallen asleep at the wheel after spending five hours through the night talking on the phone to Kristeen Panter, a woman he had contacted through an internet dating agency.

Hart already had several motoring convictions, including three speeding offences in the past eight years.

Before sentencing, he complained that he was the victim of "a great injustice".

In a letter, he wrote: "I feel I've been made a scapegoat for recent rail crashes and every driver that has ever felt tired or fallen asleep at the wheel, even though I'm not and wasn't."