Businessman paralysed after horrific crash with lorry on M6 near Rugby

Leamington Justice Centre, where Warwick Crown Court sits
Leamington Justice Centre, where Warwick Crown Court sits

A businessman has been left paralysed from the waist down following a horrific crash when an articulated lorry ploughed into the back of his van on the hard shoulder of the M6 near Rugby.

The HGV driver had drifted partly into the middle lane of the motorway before suddenly over-correcting and veering onto the hard should into the stationery van.

But at Warwick Crown Court, artic driver Steven Spiller escaped being jailed after pleading guilty on the day of his trial to causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

The 53-year-old, of Pandy, Wrexham, was sentenced to 12-and-a-half months in prison suspended for 18 months and banned from driving for two years.

The driver, who quit his job following the crash in February last year, was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and to pay £1,800 costs.

Prosecutor Michael Coley said the incident has had a catastrophic effect on businessman Christopher Starsmore who has been left paralysed from the waist down.

At shortly before 7.30am on February 17, Mr Starsmore, who was driving a Vauxhall Vivaro van northbound on the M6 near Rugby, had to pull over onto the hard shoulder.

He stopped next to the Arnco barrier, with the offside of his van a metre or so inside the rumble strip, with the lights on.

Also heading north on the motorway was Spiller, driving a Mann articulated lorry.

At some stage, he had drifted from lane one into lane two and then veered back back towards the left in a ‘panic reaction’.

It was then he collided with the van, pushing it along the barrier until the front of it hit the barrier anchor.

The barrier, bedded in concrete, was uprooted and the impact split the floor pan of the van which was pushed upwards and sideways and landed on its side, while the lorry went through the barrier and down the embankment before coming to rest.

Mr Starsmore was removed from the van by the fire brigade and rushed to University Hospital in Coventry before being moved to Stoke Mandeville because of his spinal injuries.

As well as fractures to his arm, shoulder and ribs, he had suffered devastating ‘translocation’ fractures to two of his vertebrae, as a result of which he remains paralysed from the waist down.

The court heard Mr Starsmore, from Northamptonshire, and his partner owned and ran a successful heating and plumbing company employing 35 people.

His injury has severely affected his business, as well as having a profound effect on the father-of-two’s family life.

But, even though he was in constant pain, the determined businessman managed, with the help of two friends, to stand when he married his long-term partner five months later.

Richard Clewes, defending, said Spiller was ‘extremely sorry indeed for the events of that morning.’

“He is basically a decent man, and it’s tragic the events of that morning have led to these terrible consequences.

“He resigned from his job as a driver. He does not feel able to drive lorries any more.”

Sentencing Spiller, Judge Richard Griffith-Jones told him: “Using the roads and driving, so familiar to many people who drive, is in truth one of the most dangerous things we do.

“People who drive heavy goods vehicles have a particular duty to show even more care because of the capacity for even greater catastrophe by reason of the size and weight of the vehicle.”

But he said there were no aggravating features to what happened, and aded: “The dangerous driving begins and ends within a few seconds, and relates to what you accept was an over-reaction and panic reaction to having moved partly into the wrong lane. You panicked and pulled your vehicle across lane one and substantially onto the hard shoulder. There, by horrible chance and doing nothing unlawful, was the injured party in a van.

“What follows exemplifies the power of the vehicle you were driving. His life has been changed catastrophically.”