The M62 hen party minibus death crash was “an accident waiting to happen”

Bethany Jones
Bethany Jones

The judge in the M62 hen party death case described the crash as an “accident waiting to happen”.

Judge Guy Kearl QC made the comment after hearing how minibus driver James Johnson drove at a snail’s pace on the motorway after developing a mechanical fault earlier in the fateful journey, which claimed the life of Bethany Jones, 18.

Passengers on the 24-seater minibus, who were heading from South Elmsall to a hen do in Liverpool on April 26, 2013, told Johnson about a burning smell.

The 64-year-old driver stopped on the A1 at Darrington but drove on after only making a cursory inspection.

Leeds Crown Court heard how the slow-moving minibus presented an obvious danger as it trundled to an almost standstill on the M62 - one of Britain’s busiest motorways.

Drivers sounded their horns and managed to narrowly avoid a collision with the Mercedes coach.

But a truck driven by Kevin Ollerhead, which was in a line of traffic behind, was unable to avoid it.

His lorry was in collision with the rear of the minibus, which was propelled off the carriageway and ended up on its side on the exit slip road.

Trainee nurse Miss Jones, of Bradley Carr Terrace, South Elmsall, died from multiple injuries, and 19 other women on the bus were injured.

Judge Kearl, jailing Johnson for six years and eight months today (Friday), said: “Had your coach not been struck by an HGV driven by Mr Ollerhead, it would have been hit by someone else unless there was an intervening miracle.

“This was quite literally an accident waiting to happen.”

The court heard how the minibus was a “sitting duck”.

Mr Ollerhead, 45, of St Helens, was cleared of any wrong doing following a trial last month.

At an earlier hearing Johnson, of Whytecote End, Wyke, Bradford, admitted causing death by dangerous driving.

The court heard how the coach driver was frail and had suffered from two previous strokes.

Sam Green, mitigating, asked for a suspended sentence.

But Judge Kearl, jailing Johnson, said it was “a prolonged, persistent course of very bad driving”.

Johnson was also banned from driving for ten years and until he takes a re-test.

After the case Samantha Davidson, Senior Crown Prosecutor, CPS Yorkshire and Humberside, said: “This was an appalling tragedy and my thoughts remain with Bethany’s family and with all those who were injured in this incident.

“Johnson’s passengers alerted him to a burning smell in the vehicle, which he briefly investigated, but, he then chose to continue his journey along the motorway.

“Expert evidence establishes that vehicle was travelling at no more than 5.5mph at the time of impact.

“In the face of overwhelming evidence, James Johnson pleaded guilty on September 29 to causing death by dangerous driving.

“I hope the sentence handed down today will bring some comfort to Bethany’s family and friends, and to all those who were injured in this tragic incident.”