'Text message' driver gets five years

BBC News

Wednesday, 14 February 2001 - 21:46 GMT
A lorry driver who was sending a text message to his girlfriend when he hit and killed a man has been sentenced to five years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving.

The court case, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, centred on whether or not Paul Browning, 36, from Kenley, Surrey, was messaging on his mobile phone at the time of the collision.

It is difficult to imagine a more blatant act of such of cold blooded disregard for safety on the roads - Judge Daniel Worsley

Paul Hammond, 24, from Hockley, Essex, was killed in June last year after being hit by Browning's heavy goods vehicle, in a lay-by on the A13 at Pitsea, Essex.

Browning admitted causing death by dangerous driving but denied that he was using his phone at the time of the accident.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Judge Daniel Worsley said Browning's explanation that the message was keyed in while he was in stationary traffic was "wholly unbelievable".

He said that while the lorry driver was remorseful about what had happened, it was "difficult to imagine a more blatant act of such of cold blooded disregard for safety on the roads."

Victim Paul Hammond was standing in a lay-by at the time of the crash

He said the five-year jail sentence was necessary to send a "stern deterrent' to drivers, stressing there was now serious public concern about motorists using mobile phones while driving.

Outside court the victim's father, Alan Hammond, said that justice had been done, but it would not bring back his son.

He said: "A lesson has been learned today that mobile phones can be lethal weapons."

Inspector Alan Jelley of Essex Police said the jail sentence - which could have been a maximum of 10 years under dangerous driving laws - sent a strong safety message to the public.

'Lost concentration'

Earlier Barry Gilbert, prosecuting, told Southend Crown Court Browning lost concentration while composing a text message and slowly veered off the road into the lay-by.

The court was told Browning was in the process of writing a text message to his girlfriend when the accident occurred.

Paul Browning: Remorseful about the accident
Browning's message to his girlfriend read: "Oh yes! A real scorcher! Well just leaving Benfleet 4 West Thurrock job No7 of 11."

After an expletive, Browning then ended the message with the words: "Call you back!"

Mr Gilbert told the court he did not believe Browning had been aware he had hit Mr Hammond because if he had he would not have ended the message in such a way.

But Kim Hollis, defending, said her client had been preoccupied with some papers which were flapping in his cab.

She said although he had composed a message earlier, he was not in the process of doing it when the accident happened.

Dragged down carriageway

The court heard Browning did send a message from his mobile phone shortly after the accident.

The court was told that at the time of the accident, the victim was standing in the lay-by speaking to his mother through the window of her Ford Escort.

His BMW car was parked behind her vehicle, also in the lay-by.

He had forgotten his glasses and she was delivering them to him.

Mr Gilbert said the victim was dragged some distance down the carriageway after being struck.