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Driver in fatal crash did not check mirrors properly, inquest told

Jennifer Heskins died in Hampstead Road on her way back from a funeral

09 January, 2020 — By Tom Foot

A CHARITY worker died in a lorry crash that might have been averted if the driver had checked his mirrors properly, a coroner ruled yesterday (Wednesday).

Nancy Heskins – who was known as Jennifer – died from “devastating injuries” after being dragged under four wheels of a tipper truck in Hampstead Road, Mornington Crescent, in February 2017. An inquest into the 55-year-old’s death, held at Poplar Coroner’s Court, heard claims driver.

Scott Gutteridge may have been distracted by a series of text messages and smartphone internet downloads. Ms Heskins, who lived in Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead, was on her way back from a funeral with a friend when she was hit at the pedestrian crossing near the former petrol station, while the green man was flashing. Detective Constable Will Ridler, who investigated the crash, told the court: “If the mirrors had been checked adequately, Mr Gutteridge would have seen them.”

DC Ridler said his investigation had found Ms Heskins was “fully visible” in the lorry’s mirrors and internal monitor system for six seconds before the collision but also added that the way she had crossed was “ill-advised”.

Senior coroner Mary Hassell ruled that both “inadequate” checking of mirrors and the way Ms Heskins crossed the road were the two causes of her death. She said the inquest was “very unusual” as it had followed a trial at the Old Bailey that had collapsed because of “grave difficulties”. Police witness interviewing mistakes and “significant disclosure failings” were to blame for the case being “stayed”.

A police officer is currently under investigation for gross misconduct. Ms Hassell said that because there was no prosecution, Mr Gutteridge was legally entitled not to incriminate himself by declining to answer all questions from her and Ms Heskins’ family.

She asked him: “Were you checking the internet? Were you looking at websites? Were you sending texts?” He declined to answer all questions from the coroner, other than a handful about his basic biographical information.

The court heard from Detective Constable David Bowers how the driver’s phone was seized by police and phone company O2 had “provided substantive information to the Met” including text message details and internet history. It was not possible to tell whether the text messages received were opened by the driver, the court heard. Ms Heskins’ sister, Jennifer, asked Mr Gutteridge about “many distractions” he may have had while driving that morning, including whether he had downloaded “bondage porn”. She asked about the meaning of text messages sent and received “before my sister was run over”, including one to “sexy bubba”.

Jennifer Heskins

Mr Gutteridge declined to answer.

His statement to police, read out to the court, said: “I’m never in a rush. I am very familiar with Hampstead Road. I had my phone but it was not in reach while I was driving. “I checked my mirrors. I looked ahead and I had just moved a few metres when someone shouted ‘woah, woah, woah!’ “It was a complete shock. I was in a real panic and I was all thumbs. “Took a while to call 999. I called my wife. They were in a blind spot. “Regardless of who was at fault, I feel terrible and would like to extend my sympathy to the family.”

Evidence from three witnesses who appeared in court presented conflicting pictures of what happened on the day and clashed with footage from inside the lorry and the council’s CCTV cameras.

Footage showed Ms Heskins and Kevin Barry walking out into the road from behind the lorry, walking up towards the pelican crossing, before attempting to cross with the green man flashing. Ms Heskins gesticulated desperately at the driver as she was dragged under the wheels while Mr Barry, who lives in the nearby Regent’s Park estate, shouted at the driver to stop.

Witness David Stoll, who was travelling north on a bus, told the court: “They seemed not certain about which way to move.” Ms Heskins’ family, in a statement, said: “She was a beloved daughter, sister and auntie. “Our world has been shattered and this world will be a darker place without her. We will miss her and her love for life, kind heart and beautiful smile. We love her always and she will be forever in our hearts.”

The inquest had heard how Ms Heskins had had battles with alcohol and mental health problems in her life, but that she had no alcohol or drugs in her blood at the time of the collision.

She was “still conscious” when she was treated at the Royal London Hospital but died from “haemorrhage shock caused by lower limb trauma”, a post-mortem concluded. Ms Hassell recorded a verdict of death by road traffic collision, adding: “There were two main contributory factors. “One: the way they started to cross the road before the pelican crossing, although she was in touching distance of the crossing on impact. “Two: the lorry driver’s checks of the mirrors and monitor was inadequate.”

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