When Andrew Fox swerved to avoid a vehicle he suddenly noticed in front of him on the M6, his car left the motorway and crashed into a tree, killing his young son.
And a judge has heard Fox’s former partner Charlotte Jolliffe’s heart-breaking account of the devastating effect the death of 13-month-old Freddie Fox has had on her and how she has been fundraising to support other families in and around Rugby.
For months Fox, a West Midlands Police community support officer, had denied being responsible, and pleaded not guilty to causing Freddie’s death by careless driving.
But on the day of his trial at Warwick Crown Court his barrister asked for the charge to be put again – and he then changed his plea to guilty.
Fox, aged 26, of John McGuire Crescent, Binley, Coventry, was given a 12-month community order with 270 hours of unpaid work, and was banned from driving for 12 months.
Judge Alan Parker told him: “You do not appear to me to have shown any remorse. You’ve shown yourself to be exceptionally selfish, and have given little thought about the consequences of this apart from the consequences to yourself.”
Prosecutor Lee Marklew said the tragic crash happened on a bright clear day on 7 December 2014 at about 9.30 in the morning as Fox was driving his Lexus car north between junctions 1 and 2 on the M6, with Freddie in a safety seat in the rear.
But the prosecution and defence experts agreed that he would have had a clear view for 500 metres ahead of him as he was driving at 70-80mph.
Fox and Charlotte had split up two weeks earlier, with him going back to live with his mother, and he had picked the toddler up from Charlotte’s home in Rugby that morning.
He had put Freddie into a child seat in the rear of the car – but had adjusted the rear-view mirror so that when he looked in it he could see his son rather than the road behind.
With nothing immediately in front of him, he spent what he said was ‘no more than five seconds’ looking in the mirror as Freddie played with one of his toys.
“When he looked back at the road he suddenly realised there was a car immediately in front of him, and he panicked and pulled the car to the right.
“It careered across the carriageway towards the central reservation where the wheels entered what is known as a ‘French drain’ of gravel.
“The car then went back across the carriageway and across the hard shoulder and, at some speed, into a number of trees.
“He must have known the peril he was placing himself and the boy in, because five seconds of inattention at that speed equates to the car travelling 155 to 177 metres.”
Mr Marklew said paramedics attended the scene and Freddie was rushed to Birmingham Children’s Hospital suffering from severe head injuries, from which he died three days later.
At her own request, Charlotte read out a statement in which she tearfully spoke of her loss as being ‘too much to bear’ – but also of the £35,000 the charity she set up in her son’s name has raised for the hospital.
Ian Speed, defending, said: “The thing that stopped him pleading guilty is that he has regarded that he has not himself been thought of as a victim as well, which he clearly is, as are his family. It will stay with him for the rest of his life.”
Mr Speed said Fox had been a PCSO with West Midlands Police for a number of years, receiving £1,350 a month, out of which he had continued to pay for Charlotte’s home although he had his new partner and they had their own outgoings.
Sentencing Fox, Judge Parker said: “Due to your careless driving you lost control of your car which careered off the road.
“This led to a catastrophic collision with trees and shrubbery which you survived, but your son Freddie was tragically killed.
“Cars that are being driven carefully do not usually leave the carriageway on a clear motorway; this must have happened due to inattention on your part.
“Even on your own account you took your eyes off the road for five seconds, in which time the car would have travelled at least 150 metres, if not more. I am sure what happened is that you allowed your mind to wander and drift.
“Freddie was your son, but more especially the adored son of your former partner Charlotte Jolliffe.
“If he had lived, he would have had the incomparable blessing to have been brought up by a most loving mother. She was a perfect mother to a perfect child.”
The judge pointed out that immediately after the crash Fox had not been honest in texts he sent Freddie’s mother, saying someone had pulled out on him, which was not true.
“You told her to go to the hospital, but never told her which one, and she was held up in the traffic which had been stopped for the emergency services to care for Freddie.
“She was then taken by the police to the children’s hospital in Birmingham, and Freddie died later. Her pain is incomprehensible and will never go away.”
And Judge Parker commented: “I want to emphasise the contrast between the selfishness of the defendant and her selfless devotion to Freddie’s memory in raising £35,000 to help others left distraught by the life-changing event of losing a child.
“You knew full-well you were to blame. Although you have undoubtedly suffered the pain of the loss of a child, you have since then focussed with real determination on your own selfish needs in seeking to avoid the consequences of your behaviour.”