'It will stay with him forever'

A LORRY driver, who was distracted on a hands-free call when he killed a Barrow RAF sergeant on the motorway, has been jailed for three years. Scott McConnell, from Barrow, was sat in his VW Golf with the hazard warning lights on when an articulated lorry ploughed into the back of his car. HGV driver Malcolm Clarkson, 44, of Cat Tail Lane, Southport, was jailed for three-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

Clarkson, who Warwick Crown Court heard was speaking to his mother on a hands-free phone and only braked 24 metres before impact, was also banned from driving for six years and nine months. Prosecutor Grace Ong said that at the time 26-year-old Mr McConnell was an air crew sergeant in the RAF, having graduated from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, and was due to begin a posting in Chinook helicopter at RAF Benson. On November 19 2019 at 10.15pm a white van driven by Colin Beckett collided with a Royal Mail lorry on the M40 northbound near to Warwick Services between junctions 12 and 13.

The court heard lorry pulled onto the hard shoulder, but the van was stationary in lane one when Sgt McConnell came on the scene. He pulled up behind the van so his VW Golf was half on the hard shoulder and half in lane one, and put his hazard lights on to warn other drivers as he went to check on Mr Beckett. He then returned to his car and sat in the passenger seat to call the emergency services when a Scania HGV driven by Clarkson ploughed into the back of the car, which had been ‘perfectly visible to other drivers’, the court heard.

It was found that as he approached the scene Clarkson had been doing 61mph – and he was just 24 metres from the Golf when he braked, colliding with the car, said Miss Ong. The van driver was found face-down on the verge, bleeding from his head and with a fractured shoulder. Police officers gave emergency first-aid to Mr McConnell before he was taken to University Hospital in Coventry where he was found to have ‘head and neck injuries which were not survivable,’ and he died at 7.20am.

At the scene Clarkson, who had been on the phone for five-and-a-half minutes, said he had looked in his mirror and when he looked back he saw a vehicle in lane one, so checked to see if he could pull out and there was then a collision. But when he was later interviewed Clarkson, who had previous convictions of falsifying his mileage and supplying drugs, declined to answer and questions. Andrew Nuttall, defending, said: “The defendant fully accepts his guilt.

He never wanted to hurt anyone. He doesn’t actually know what happened to him, but accepts it was his fault. “The consequence of his driving will live with him for ever.

“He cannot do anything other than say over and over again that he is sorry. He recognises the devastation felt by Mr McConnell’s family, but he has been greatly affected by this incident himself. “He recognises he will go to custody, and he feels that it is right that he should be punished.”

Jailing Clarkson, Judge Anthony Potter told him: “HGV drivers like you owe a particular responsibility to other road-users because an error in their control can be so catastrophic. “Scott McConnell had only recently graduated from the Defence Helicopter Flying School, and was only days away from fulfilling his ambition by taking up a position as a member of the aircrew on a Chinook helicopter. “He pulled over behind the stricken van and positioned his car and put his hazard lights on.

His action in showing consideration for other road-users was entirely in character. “A student was following you, and his view of the road was poorer, but he saw Mr McConnell’s hazard lights. “You plainly should have had a better view, but you did not seek to slow your vehicle or to move over.

“In fact you were accelerating, and it was less than a second before colliding with Mr McConnell’s vehicle that you applied your brakes. “You were on the phone, hands-free, to your mother. I am quite satisfied that was at least a factor in taking your attention away from the road.

“He was a young man at the very start of his adult life, and that life has been taken away from him, and his family have been left with their anger and pan and grief.

“I have no doubt you are very sorry, but nothing you can do and nothing I can do can take away the pain the family suffers and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives.”