Judge warns coach driver he will be jailed when sentenced next month after M1 fatal crash
A coach driver has been told a custodial sentence is ‘certain’ after he was found guilty at Luton Crown Court of death by dangerous driving – for crashing his double-decker into a stationary Audi on the hard shoulder of the M1 in Bedfordshire, which led to the deaths of three men on Valentine’s Day 2015.
Alan Peters, 78, who was driving the Berkhof-bodied Volvo double-decker operated by Sheerness-based Travelmaster – was convicted on November 16 of three counts of causing death by dangerous driving and one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. Mr Peters will be sentenced on a date to be confirmed in December.
He had previously pleaded guilty to the lesser charges of causing three deaths by careless driving.
The jury heard how Peters failed to see signs saying that the hard shoulder was for emergency use only and travelled along it for almost three minutes before colliding with the Audi car, which had its hazard warning lights activated.
The motorist had pulled over on the hard shoulder between junctions 12 and 13 of the M1 after the oil light lit up on the dashboard. He had just finished topping up the oil and was preparing to set off again when the collision occurred.
Charles White, Senior Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “This case involved a terrible incident, which led to the untimely deaths of three men and the serious injury of another on the M1 near Flitwick, Bedfordshire last February. This is a tragic waste of these lives and could have been avoided.
“At about 0640hrs on Saturday, February 14, 2015, Alan Peters, was driving a double-decker Volvo coach, with 62 passengers, northbound along the M1 between junctions 12 and 13 when, at approximately 61mph, he ploughed into the back of an Audi, which was stationary on the hard shoulder with its hazard warning lights on, causing catastrophe, destruction and devastation. Allan Evans, 59, and Nathan Reeves, 23, and Thomas Aldridge, 20, both from Newport Pagnell, who were all in the Audi, died at the scene. Jake Dorling, aged 23, who was the front seat passenger in the Audi, suffered a fractured skull, fractured hips, four fractured ribs and a punctured lung.
“Peters was driving on the hard shoulder for almost three minutes prior to the collision in contravention of signs denoting that the hard shoulder was designated for emergency use only. The Audi was clearly visible to Peters for 1,500 metres and almost a minute prior to impact, uninterrupted by any intervening vehicles, but he was oblivious to the approaching danger. Only 0.4 seconds before impact did he apply his brakes, but it was too late for him to take any avoiding action.
“Peters claimed that he thought the hard shoulder was open to all traffic and could not account for why he had not reacted to the stationary Audi, except to intimate that another vehicle may have been ahead of him, which may have obscured his view, but CCTV disproved this.
“This case highlights the serious consequences of failing to be alert and prepared for unexpected or challenging driving conditions. Holding a driving licence brings with it a high degree of responsibility that should always be at the forefront of every driver’s mind.
“I hope that today’s convictions will in some way help the family and friends of the victims come to terms with this tragic event. I also hope that Jake continues with his recovery. My thoughts are very much with them all at this time.”
In the witness box Mr Peters, said: “My belief is that from junction 10 onwards the overhead gantry signs were displaying ‘Congestion use hard shoulder and 60 miles per hour’ signs. That is why I was on the hard shoulder. My recollection is that there were a number of signs from junction 10 repeatedly saying congestion use hard shoulder.”
Asked by Nigel Lickley, QC defending how he felt after the impact, he said: “A mixture of emotions – horrified, sick, frightened. At the scene I was given to understand two people had died. At the police station it transpired it was three. I was interviewed at Kempston police station. I was mentally drained. Just horrified that the whole thing had happened.”
After the verdicts were returned, Mr Lickley said Mr Peters knew he would receive a jail sentence.
Judge Foster granted Mr Peters bail while reports were prepared. He has been banned from driving. The judge said: “I make it clear that a custodial sentence is certain.”