Chorley HGV driver James Majury whose actions killed boy and teaching assistant and injured several others is facing sentencing

A HGV driver who fatally ploughed his 19.2 tonne vehicle into a school minibus had engaged cruise control on a motorway as he used several mobile phone apps moments before the impact.

Friday, 7th August 2020, 1:40 pm

James Majury, 33, of Milton Road, Coppull, is to be sentenced over the next two days for causing the deaths of teaching assistant Anne Kerr and schoolboy Joe Cairns, 14, and seriously injuring three youngsters and two adults by dangerous driving on January 8 last year.

Anne, 50, from Southport, and 14-year-old Joe, from Radcliffe, were pronounced dead at the scene on the M58 at Bickerstaffe, near Wigan, after Majury's 19.2 tonne HGV ploughed into the back of the minibus as heavy traffic built up on the approach to roadworks and a lane closure.

Joe, a special needs pupil at Pontville School in Ormskirk, and teaching assistant Ms Kerr, had been travelling in a school minibus when it was involved in a crash with a HGV at 8.44am.

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Joe Cairns and Ann Kerr

Two men, including the minibus driver John Hatton, Chris Whalley, and three boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, suffered serious injuries and many other road users suffered minor injuries, including a mum travelling with her baby in her car.

The court was told mobile phone evidence and app activity showed Majury was engaged in using them until at least 8.41am.

The prosecution says Majury was distracted by a number of applications on his mobile phone for a lengthy period up to and including the period before the collision, including a "fantasy game" called Hustle Castle, Facebook and a text message, while the HGV's cruise control was activated.

Prosecuting, Frances McEntee said on the morning of the collision Joe's mum, Steph Cairns, had sent him off from his home in Bury to Ormskirk's Pontville School as usual, telling him: "Get gone, you get to school, I'll see you tonight."

But he never made it.

Mr McEntee said: "The defendant James Majury was behind the wheel of a Mercedes HGV laden with scaffolding as it made its way along M58 also on the approach to junction three.

"It will be revealed subsequently that cruise control had been activated on the HGV and the Crown say he had been more engaged with Facebook than the road ahead.

"The defendant would later tell police he had seen the warning signs a lane was closed on the slip road ahead, but despite the warning and line of traffic, he ploughed the vehicle into the rear of the Pontville school minibus, killing Joe Cairns and Anne Kerr.

"The prosecution say the defendant has displayed a total disregard for the rules of the road and the apparent danger that was caused to other road users, and that he did that by engaging with emails, texts and a variety of other apps on his phone.

"We say the defendant had effectively unleashed a 19.2 ton battering ram on the M58 with literally devastating impact on the lives of his victims."

The court saw sickening footage of the fatal collision taken from a nearby roundabout, and heard the catastrophic damage to the minibus in detail, which had its length crushed from 4.9m long to to 3.3m, illustrating the impact.

One driver caught up in the crash and knocked out, describing the scene around her as "complete carnage".

Another said her car went into an uncontrollable skin and her windscreen smashed, sending glass into her teeth.

Mr Mcentee added: "Miss Parry was one of several medical practitioners in and around the scene.

"She went to the passenger side and was able to check Mrs Kerr. She was unable to find a pulse and it was apparent to her Mrs Kerr was already dead.

" A Dr Khan was at the scene and could see Joe Cairns lying down stuck in the footwell, lodged between the rear and middle row of seats.

"He checked to see if he could feel a pulse, sadly he could not."

When asked by one victim: "What the hell happened?" he replied he took his eye off the road for a second after receiving a call and locking down on his phone.

In the aftermath Majury made a call to his manager, saying: " I think I've killed two."

At first he said he'd been having a hands free call with his partner, had looked down to check the call had ended and when he looked up the collision occurred.

However, examination of his phone and tachograph exposed the true details of the defendant's journey, which started between 8.07am and 8.30am with him sending a text to Radio 1 while apparently travelling at 1mph.

The Sky Sport news app was activated at 8.11am while he was stationary in traffic when that was done. It remained live for five minutes and 54 seconds.

The phone was reactivated at a time he was travelling at 56mph on the M6.

This followed the launch of the Google Maps application.

At 8.26am, while travelling at 55mph on the M6, he received a text and within 16 seconds he had read typed and sent his answer.

At 8.28am, still travelling at 55mph, he launched the Hustle Castle application - a strategy game to 'build a castle. He then received an incoming text and switched applications before texting a response.

The conversation also prompted a call to his partner on hands free.

He opened Facebook at 8.41am and moments later, at 8.42am, slammed on his brakes just 12 metres from the mini bus - colliding with it at an estimated 50mph.

Medical evidence showed Mrs Kerr suffered fatal head and chest injuries, while Joe suffered chest and abdominal injuries, contributed to by positional asphyxia.

Mr Hatton suffered bleeding into his chest, and fractures and needed a back brace for three months, and in an impact statement said he partly blamed himself and wonders if he had have done things differently and gone a different way.

One boy had a broken leg, another suffered a brain haemorrhage and neck fractures, and liver spleen kidney and chest injuries.

Another had bruising and back fractures.

Chris Whalley suffered a spine fracture, and said at first he was unable to sleep because all he could hear was screaming and images of what he'd seen.

In a harrowing victim statement Simon Kerr, Anne's husband, with whom she had two sons, described how they met when she was 19 and wed in 1990.

They had moved back to the north from the Isle of Wight to be near their families.

He described her as a caring, compassionate person who put the needs of others before her own, and who loved the children she worked with.

Their son had attended a similar school and they had seen how much he thrived and were grateful.

He told the court he had texted her at 8.40am to see how her day was going, to which she replied: "Yeah all good thanks."

When he later had no reply he 'felt' something was wrong and tried contacting hospitals and the school to get news, before a Lancashire officer contacted him.

Mr Kerr had to inform their children and Anne's parents of her death.

He added: "Life has been tough and unbearable and getting up in the morning and having a normal routine is tough. I try to put on a face but behind that face I'm overwhelmed with what happened - it's a recurring nightmare. I'm a broken man and writing this statement has been difficult.

"Remembering our life together and how unfairly she's been taken away from myself is hard to express.

"Anne was a young 50-year-old in good health and should have had many years ahead of her.

"She didn't deserve to die on a cold January morning on the M58."

He said he hoped people would remember the case before picking up their phones in their vehicles.

Her son Daniel also spoke of his devastation and said she had missed seeing him get engaged