An artic lorry driver who hit a car as he pulled in after overtaking a convoy on the M40 near Leamington, starting a fatal chain of events, has been cleared of responsibility for the young motorist’s death.
George Carr (64) of The Hurn, Digby, Lincs, had denied causing Alex Butwell’s death on the M40 in south Warwickshire in March last year by dangerous driving.
That charge was reduced to one of causing 25-year-old Alex’s death by careless driving following legal submissions during his trial at Warwick Crown Court.
And after deliberating for just an hour and 20 minutes the jury unanimously found him not guilty of that charge.
Judge Sylvia de Bertodano told him: “I hope it has given you some comfort that they have come back so quickly with a unanimous verdict. You can leave the court knowing the jury are satisfied you did nothing wrong.”
The judge said Alex’s family had ‘behaved with incredible dignity’ throughout the trial, and told them: “My heart goes out to you. You are living a nightmare we all fear happening to us.
I hope you don’t go away from here thinking the verdict is any reflection on Alex. It isn’t. Sometimes a tragic accident is just a tragic accident.”
The jury had heard that that in the early hours of Sunday March 23 last year Mr Butwell was among a group of enthusiasts heading to a car show at the Santa Pod raceway.
Mr Butwell, from Tividale, Oldbury, was in his white VW Polo with his girlfriend Rachel Crawford in the front passenger seat and a friend, Ashley Gibson, in the back.
After meeting other people at Warwick Services on the M40, they continued south, with Mr Butwell’s ‘gleaming’ Polo, his pride and joy, at the head of an 11-vehicle convoy travelling at 46-50mph in the nearside lane.
Carr, who worked for poultry suppliers Moy Park, was also heading south in his refrigerated artic to make a delivery in Banbury when he came up behind the convoy.
He pulled out to overtake the line of cars, but as he pulled back in, he ‘set off a chain of events which led to the death of Alex Butwell,’ said prosecutor Stefan Kolodynski.
The nearside step of the HGV’s cab hit the Polo, sending it spinning in front of the lorry which then shunted it along before it was thrown into the central Arnco barrier.
After the car came to rest, with the front against the barrier and the back sticking out into the fast lane, Ms Crawford and Mr Gibson got out of the passenger door.
Unable to see Mr Butwell, they rushed round to the driver’s side where the door was open with no-one inside.
Tragically, dazed Mr Butwell had gone to the rear of the car where he was struck and killed by a BMW being driven by Donald Corrigan who had pulled into the fast lane after seeing the convoy on the hard shoulder with their hazard lights on.
Corrigan, 67, of Butt Lane, Allesley, Coventry, was charged with causing the 25-year-old’s death by driving without due care and attention, which he denied.
And following the legal submissions a not guilty verdict was entered after the judge ruled, in the light of evidence agreed between prosecution and defence experts, he had no case to answer.
Giving evidence, accident investigator Pc Colin Humphreys said he and defence expert Peter Jennings agreed that Carr’s lorry ‘was travelling at a constant speed of 56mph,’ and that Alex must have speeded up as he was being overtaken.
And if Alex had not accelerated, it was calculated that the rear of the artic would have been a safe 37 metres in front of the Polo when Carr began to pull back in.
As it was, the Polo’s acceleration meant it would have remained in the lorry driver’s blind spot, Pc Humphreys accepted.
Carr said in his evidence that after reaching the head of the convoy he had checked his nearside mirror after 5-6 seconds and saw a car about half-way down the side of his trailer.
“I carried on again for another 5-6 seconds and checked in my mirror again and saw headlights to the rear of my trailer.”
Asked what he thought those lights were, he responded: “The car I had just overtaken, the first one in the convoy. It was a fair way behind. I checked once again, to be sure, and then indicated and commenced my manoeuvre into lane one.”
Asked by his barrister Tom Walkling whether he had seen or felt anything untoward, he replied: “Nothing at all.”
In relation to Corrigan, the two experts agreed that, with the BMW on dipped beam at 50-60mph, there would only had been ‘significant illumination’ of the crashed Polo for 1-1.5 seconds before impact.
That would have been time for Corrigan to begin evasive action ‘but insufficient time to stop or change lanes.’
After the judge’s ruling in relation to Corrigan, the CPS had initially indicated through Mr Kolodynski that they wanted to challenge her decision in the Court of Appeal.
But following an adjournment for that course to be considered further, during which Mr Kolodynski gave the CPS written advice, it was decided not to challenge the ruling.
Corrigan was not at court to hear that decision, having been told he did not need to attend.
But before leaving after the judge had entered the not guilty verdict in his case, he said it had been an ordeal for him – but added that he felt ‘desperately sorry’ for Alex’s family.