A three-year-old boy fell out of a flatbed lorry and went under the vehicle after the nearside door flew open as it went round a Rugby traffic island.
Driver Brian Medcraft jumped from the cab and scooped the badly-injured boy up in his arms, put him back inside and drove off before being stopped by the police.
He was later charged with causing serious injury to the boy by dangerous driving in the defective truck, which he denied.
And at a hearing shortly before his trial was due to take place at Warwick Crown Court, he pleaded guilty to an alternative offence of child cruelty by neglecting the boy’s safety.
Medcraft (46) of Daventry Road, Kilsby, was sentenced to eight weeks in jail suspended for 12 months and ordered to do 175 hours of unpaid work and to pay £125 costs after the court heard the boy has made a full recovery.
Prosecutor Jennifer Josephs said that in December 2015 people near the Tesco roundabout in Leicester Road, Rugby, saw the door of the Renault flatbed recovery truck fly open as it went round the island.
“To their horror, a small child fell from the truck to the floor and under the lorry, which was not going at a great speed, and Mr Medcraft was able to stop within a vehicle’s length.
“He got out of the cab in a panic before pulling the boy from under the vehicle.
“He lifted the boy back into the vehicle and immediately drove off, once again with the child unrestrained, and witnesses called the police.”
A few minutes later, unaware of the incident, officers saw Medcraft reversing the truck down the hard shoulder of the slip-road leading onto the M6 northbound.
When he was questioned, he lied about how the boy had been injured, claiming the three-year-old had fallen out when he had stopped to let him go for a wee.
Of his act in reversing down the slip-road, he explained that he had set off in a panic to get the child to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry before realising it would be quicker to head to Rugby’s St Cross Hospital.
The boy, who had a broken tooth and was bleeding from both nostrils, was rushed to hospital where a scan revealed he had suffered a fractured skull.
And although he was admitted for observation, no surgery was required, and he was discharged with the prognosis of a full recovery, said Miss Josephs.
A vehicle examiner found the truck, which had no MOT, had no fewer than 18 faults including a damaged seatbelt, corroded brakes and locks which only intermittently secured the doors.
Medcraft, who was not insured to drive it, said he had borrowed the truck the previous day to test-drive it with a view to buying it to use as a tow-truck.
Miss Josephs said that Medcraft, who had convictions for dishonesty and was jailed in 2005 for supplying class A drugs, had entered his plea on the basis that he had driven the truck with the child unsecured on the passenger seat.
The passenger seatbelt could not be fastened because the other end was unreachable, having got wedged down the seat, and in any event was clearly almost sheared through.
David Everett, defending, said that although Medcraft had a bad background, there had been ‘a dramatic improvement in recent years,’ and he is the breadwinner for his family, working as a self-employed landscape gardener earning around £400 a week.
“The door opened unexpectedly. It could be closed, but was liable to open at any moment. He was not aware of that, but he accepts the child was unrestrained in the vehicle.”
Sentencing Medcraft, Recorder David Chinery told him: “I am quite sure that since this incident it has been on your mind on an almost daily basis that, serious as the injuries to this little boy were, they could have been much more serious, or even fatal, if he had fallen under the wheels.
“The reality is that in this case you allowed a three-year-old child to be sitting in the front seat without proper child seating and unrestrained.
“That is the real failure on your part to protect this child from the injury he then sustained.
“Because there was no proper seating and he was unrestrained, even if it had been in good condition, an emergency stop in such circumstances could also have caused an injury to this child.”