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Prison warning after lorry driver convicted of soldiers' deaths
12:53pm Monday 9th September 2013 in News
A LORRY driver who killed two soldiers in a horrific crash on the A66 in Cumbria has been warned he could be sent to prison.
Colin Pattison, 53, was found not guilty at Carlisle Crown Court of the more serious offence of causing their deaths by dangerous driving, but was found guilty of causing their deaths by careless driving.
The jury deliberated for three and a half hours and returned unanimous guilty verdicts on charges that he caused the deaths of Lance Sergeant David Mark Gartland, 40, and Private James Bell Fairburn Austin, 24, by driving without due care and attention.
Pattison crashed his heavily laden wagon, loaded with doors, at 30mph into the back of an Army Land-Rover which had already smashed into the trailer of broken-down lorry which was belching thick smoke across the carriageway on the A66 at Stainmore on September 1 2011.
The prosecution said he should have slowed to a crawl, as other drivers did when they were confronted by the blinding smoke which reduced visibility to just one or two feet.
But even though Pattison, an HGV driver for more than 30 years, admitted seeing the smoke from about 500 yards away he continued driving at normal speed, assuming it was nothing more serious than a stubble fire at the side of the road, the court heard.
Moments after the soldiers’ Land-Rover crashed into the back of the stricken vehicle Pattison’s lorry crashed into it, crushing it to half its size against the wagon in front.
A pathologist said she was in no doubt that the soldiers, who were returning to Catterick Garrison after exercises at the Warcop training camp in Cumbria, had survived the first impact, and had been killed in the second.
Pattison, of New Close Lodge, Newclose Lane, Goole, North Humberside, had pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths of the two men by dangerous driving.
And on Thursday, after all the evidenced had been heard, he also denied the alternative count of causing their deaths by careless driving.
The court heard that immediately after the crash Pattison told the police that driving into the smoke was “like someone put a bag over my head. It was like someone had just painted the windscreen out white.”
In evidence he said he approached the smoke “confidently but very cautiously”, but did not actually apply his brakes.
“I have been through field smoke many times and I anticipated going into it, immediately out of it and back in the sunshine,” he said.
Pattison said it was only when he was inside the smoke that he realised it was thicker than anything he had ever experienced before.
By then it was too late to do anything about it, because the crash was “almost instantaneous”, he said.
Asked why he had not slowed to a crawl, as other drivers had done, he replied: “I think I misjudged the density of the smoke.
“You just assumed and hoped this was a small cloud?” asked prosecuting counsel Tim Evans.
“I did not hope, no,” Pattison replied. “I was going on past experience.”
After yesterday’s verdict Pattison was remanded on bail for background reports.
Judge Barbara Forrester warned him that the fact he was being allowed bail did not mean he would not be going to prison when he is sentenced on October 4.