Speed thrills - and kills

Source: The Gaurdian
Date: October 4, 2001

A cavalry officer was described by a judge as "a menace behind the wheel" for his part in the deaths of three people, including a five-year-old girl. Major Giles Stibbe, 43, of Chipping Norton, was cleared of three counts of causing death by dangerous driving at Exeter Crown Court.

The jury took just under eight hours to reach a unanimous verdict that Stibbe was guilty of dangerous driving but not of causing death by dangerous driving. It was alleged that he crossed a continuous white line on the A350 between Yarnbrook and West Ashton near Trowbridge while overtaking a Ford Escort belonging to Lee and Penny Sheppard of Calne, and a lorry.

When he spotted a Toyota MR2 sports car coming in the opposite direction, Stibbe accelerated and pulled in front of the lorry.

The Toyota driver slammed on the brakes, lost control, hit the nearside verge and collided with another car coming in the opposite direction. It somersaulted into the air, landing on its roof, and burst into flames. Five-year-old Tamara-Jayne Sheppard; Craig Dicker, 23, from Devizes, the driver of the Toyota; and his passenger, Adam Lumley, 21, from Melksham, were killed.

Tamara's brother Ben, seven, was badly injured and will never walk again.

Stibbe claimed he pulled in front of the lorry before the continuous white line started.

"I used my triptronic gear system to give me oomph to overtake," he told the police. "The MR2 came at me like a bullet. I thought, 'My God, a boy racer,' and completed my pull in."

The court heard that Mr Dicker had been racing a Peugeot 309 GTi driven by Barry Smith, who had earlier admitted dangerous driving and been given community service. His passenger, David May, said they had raced Mr Dicker's Toyota at up to 90mph.

"Both parties were to blame," he told the court. "We should not have been racing, and he should not have been overtaking up a hill with white lines on it."

After the verdict was announced, Judge Graham Cottle revealed that Stibbe had four previous convictions for speeding, including one conviction two months before the tragic crash. Judge Cottle said Stibbe had also been cautioned in June last year for overtaking on a bend. He was sent on a driving improvement course but was not disqualified or banned.

Stibbe said that he had not seen the accident in his mirror and was unaware of what had happened. He was caught on a private closed-circuit television camera seconds after the accident and was traced to his fiance's home near Warminster, Wiltshire. Stibbe was bailed for reports before sentencing. Judge Cottle said he would consider sending him on community service and an enhanced driving test.

Dennis Lumley, 49, father of Adam, said he was disgusted with the jury's verdict and said they should have been aware of Stibbe's driving record. The maximum sentence for dangerous driving is two years. Times; Wiltshire Times; Warminster Journal; Devizes Gazette and Herald; Daily Mail; September 2001.

  Side Story

Driver chased death car

DRIVER Barry Smith has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service after admitting dangerous driving on the A350 in West Ashton, seconds before a crash in which three people died.

Smith, 21, of The Down, Trowbridge, had been chasing the Toyota MR2 in which Craig Dicker, 23, and Adam Lumley, 21, both from Melksham, died, at speeds of up to 60mph along the A350 before the fatal accident.

Five-year-old Tamara-Jayne Sheppard, of Compton Bassett, also died in the smash. Her seven-year-old brother Ben suffered serious spinal injuries.

Smith pleaded guilty to dangerous driving on November 9, and the case was adjourned for sentencing reports to be prepared.

John Elliott, defending, said Smith's driving had not caused the fatal accident.

He said: "Had there been a clear connection between my client's driving and the aftermath of the terrible accident and unfortunate loss of life to three people, my client would have been charged with causing death by dangerous driving."

Mr Elliott said Smith was devastated by the accident and had sought medical advice to cope with the trauma.

On Monday Amanda Sawetz, prosecuting, told Chippenham magistrates Smith was driving a Peugeot 309GTi on the evening of July 25, when he saw a Toyota MR2 ahead on the A350 heading towards the West Ashton crossroads from Melksham.

The court was told he said: "That car's chipping," and accelerated after it.

Smith's passenger David May reported Smith was driving at about 60 mph. They saw a small car behind a tractor, which pulled out to overtake, followed by both the MR2 and Smith's car, so the three cars were on the wrong side of the road, Smith driving very close to the MR2.

The driver of the small car reported both the MR2 and Smith overtook him immediately after he pulled in, the Peugeot accelerating and very close behind the MR2.

Smith and the MR2 stopped at the traffic lights at the crossroads, and accelerated away when the lights changed. Mr May reported he could hear the engine screaming.

The court heard Smith quickly accelerated to 50mph just a car's length behind the MR2.

Then they saw a large blue lorry coming towards them, and another car pulled out to overtake the lorry.

The MR2 braked fiercely, with smoke coming from all four wheels as it skidded down the hill. It veered across the road and hit the car directly behind the lorry.

Miss Sawetz said Smith's chasing the car in front, his speed, and the distance from the MR2, as well as overtaking a tractor near the brow of a hill, made his driving dangerous.

But she added his driving was not persistently dangerous that day and the speed was not grossly excessive.

As well as the community service, Smith was disqualified from driving for 15 months from November 9, with 118 costs. He will have to take an extended driving test before his licence is restored.