A top Touring Car motor racing driver who knocked down and killed a cyclist while he was talking to his girlfriend on his mobile phone has been jailed for 21 months.
Frank Wrathall, 27, once a successful British Touring Car Championship driver whose career now lies in tatters, was chatting to model Zara Watt for almost eight minutes with one hand on the steering wheel before his van was involved in a collision on a roundabout on May 14 last year.
‘Devoted family man’ Paul Fingleton, 47, had been at a nearby tennis club with his wife Anne, watching his 14-year-old daughter Hannah play tennis, before leaving early to prepare supper for his family.
Wrathall, who was driving a Citroen van and towing his racing car, failed to spot Mr Fingleton and cut across him at the roundabout – knocking the chartered accountant off his bicycle and leaving him with severe injuries to his head and spine.
Jailing him at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday, Judge Mark Brown said: “You had a flagrant disregard for the law which led to the premature and tragic death of Mr Fingleton.
“That collision took place because you didn’t take the necessary care to see him in time. You didn’t spot him until it was too late.
“There is no doubt he could have been seen clearly and it is difficult to understand why this accident happened, except for the fact you were using your mobile phone at the time.
“As a Touring Car championship driver, you should have been setting an example for others to follow and your fault does not fall far short of dangerous driving.”
An automatic number plate recognition camera, situated above the junction, showed Wrathall, who is “extremely popular in the world of motorsports,” using his phone as he approached the sliproad seconds before the collision.
The van he was driving did not have any Bluetooth and there was no facility for hands-free calling.
Mr Fingleton, who was described as a religious man, had been wearing a bright red top at the time of the accident and although he hadn’t been wearing a helmet, the court heard that this would not have saved him.
He was taken to Royal Preston Hospital where medical staff worked for several hours to try to save his life but sadly died from his injuries.
The father-of-one was described as a “devoted family man” who gave all his time to his family and who used to sit “side by side” with his daughter, helping her with her homework.
Judge Brown added: “Mr Fingleton had many years ahead of him and his family expected him to enjoy a long and fulfilling life.
“He was dearly loved by his wife and daughter. His wife Anne described him as a very special person who was generous and caring.
“He had a wide circle of friends and it is a testament to his character that he had a following of loyal and dedicated staff.
“He was a wonderful husband and father and he would have been particularly proud by what his daughter has achieved at school over the last year.
“His daughter can’t begin to express how much she misses him and his death kills her a little bit every day.
“You have deprived Mr Fingleton of a full life and have taken away from his family the continuous love, affection and compassion that he would have given them.
“His death will be followed by lifelong grief and pain.”
Wrathall, from Barnacre, near Garstang, previously pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and accepted he had been on his mobile phone at the time of the fatal collision at Broughton roundabout on the A6 near Preston, Lancs.
Wrathall, who was described as “a polite and responsible young man,” was jailed for 21 months and banned from driving for four years.
As he was led away, Mr Fingleton’s wife Anne, who was joined by other members of her family, sobbed.
Mark Aldred, for Wrathall, whose driving record was described as “excellent,” told the court his career as a racing driver is over.
Senior Investigating Officer Sergeant Dave Hogarth, from Lancashire Constabulary’s Roads Policing Unit, said: “This is an incredibly tragic case which highlights the significant dangers and most devastating consequences of using your mobile phone whilst driving.
“Wrathall was trying to manoeuvre his large white van with racing car in tow whilst on the phone to his girlfriend; he clearly wasn’t focussed on the road and his driving, but on his phone call.
“This case should serve as a severe warning to everyone that you should never use your mobile phone whilst driving.
“The past 21 months have been incredibly difficult for the Fingleton family and I hope today’s sentencing can provide them with some closure and help them as they continue to grieve for their loss.
“Today our thoughts are with them and our specialist officers will continue to offer them support.”