Fast-paced lifestyle came to a sudden, deadly halt

Selby verdict: Gary Hart

By Ian Herbert
Friday 14 December 2001 01:00

Gary Hart's choice of words to describe his lifestyle in a police interview was unfortunate. "My life is 1,000 miles per hour. It's just the way I live." He had been charged with speeding and driving so dangerously that he caused the death of 10 people.

But Hart, who boasted that he could skip breakfast and lunch and go 36 hours without sleep, believed he was a "hunter-gatherer" who worked hard at his building business, travelling on average 50,000 miles a year.

His social life was equally hectic. Telephone bills from the 36 hours before the disaster chart countless text messages and more than six and a half hours of telephone conversation with a woman he had got to know through an internet dating agency but had never met.

The recipient of his calls was revealed to be Kristeen Panter. The tabloids had Hart down as the "cyber romeo" and she was his "cyber chick". Hart, who claimed to have considered suicide after the crash, soon started receiving hate mail at Leeds Crown Court.

The testimony of the 37-year-old self-employed contractor suggested some sensitivity about his contact with Miss Panter, which began by e-mail before he sent her his mobile phone number. He had "not felt so alive in years", he told police. "We were chatting about everything and anything – our lives and relationships." Miss Panter, a 40-year-old charity worker with two children, revealed nothing more prurient from their conversations than a discussion of past relationships.

Hart also enjoyed field archery, at which he represented England in European competition. He told police he started when he was 10 and was once ranked third in the world. He said the sport had given him character.

"You don't get that [world ranking] by being stupid in the head. I know what life's about. I don't let things get on top of me. Stress is character- building," he said.

Hart managed his long- distance business travel to have regular contact with his estranged wife, Elaine, 38, who accompanied him at the trial.

He had stayed with his wife and three daughters over the weekend before the crash and left for Wigan on Monday, 26 February. He slept that night in a works caravan and headed back at 10.30am the next day to drop off a cargo of wire mesh and pick up the Renault Savanna he was towing at the time of the accident. He then returned to eat kebabs with Elaine and the children in the early evening, before doing some paperwork. In between times, he maintained his relentless text message and telephone contact.

Images of Hart visiting the scene of the crash during the trial, eyes momentarily closed in contemplation, emphasised the emotional toll on him. But though Hart is no serious criminal – his previous convictions are for the handling and use of stolen driving documents and driving a motorbike without L-plates – he proved economical with the truth.

Hart revised the amount of time he slept before the fatal crash from three hours down to 45 minutes after he realised detectives had questioned Miss Panter.

And the "bang" he said he heard at the back of his Land Rover before the crash bears no relation to forensic examination of the vehicle, so he was either lying or imagining things when he revealed in his only interview, with a local newspaper, after the crash: "I know if the accident had been my fault I couldn't have lived with myself. I keep asking myself, 'Why didn't I die? Why not me?'."

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