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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Selby driver 'fell asleep' at the wheel
Gary and Elaine Hart
Mr Hart held hands with his wife Elaine outside court
The driver of a Land Rover, which careered on to a railway line causing the Selby train crash, fell asleep at the wheel, a court heard.

Gary Hart, 37, had spent five hours chatting to a woman on the telephone before the accident happened, Leeds Crown Court was told.

The jury heard how Hart's Land Rover and trailer left the M62 and plunged down the embankment on to the East Coast mainline where it was hit by a southbound GNER express train which then collided with a fully-laden coal train.

Hart, of Strubby, Lincolnshire, has pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths of 10 people by dangerous driving.

Relatives of the dead were in court

James Goss, QC, prosecuting, said Mr Hart told police his Land Rover left the carriageway after hearing a loud bang.

According to Mr Goss, Mr Hart said: "I honestly don't know whether it was a tyre or whether I ran over something.

"Something went bang at the back. But it just violently shook and pulled off to the left-hand side.

Dating agency

"There was fencing flying all over the place."

Mr Hart then told officers he remembered everything going quiet for about 30 seconds before he hit the rails.

In the interview he said it took him about five or six seconds to find his mobile phone as he was "dazed and stunned".

Mr Goss added Mr Hart managed to scramble up the embankment and called the emergency services just before the train hit.

The court heard Mr Hart then told officers: "I looked around and I saw there's a train coming. I heard it brake and sound its alarm and bang, it hit."

Earlier, Mr Goss told the court heard Mr Hart had spent five hours chatting to Kristeen Panter, the night before the crash.

Ms Panter had replied to his personal advertisement placed on an internet dating agency.

Selby train crash
Ten people died in the crash in February

Mr Goss said the prosecution alleged Mr Hart fell asleep at the wheel adding: "We say he must have been aware of his sleepiness and fought it for a time."

Mr Goss told the court on 27 February - a day before the tragedy - Ms Panter and Mr Hart had developed "a high degree of mutual interest".

Mr Goss said the accused's business line was in use between 2148 GMT on 27 February and 0358 GMT on 28 February.

He said: "He [Mr Hart] says he had about an hour or 45 minutes sleep."

Speed limit

Mr Hart told police he left home after 0430 GMT but no later than 0440 GMT.

The accused was later spotted on CCTV cameras at Louth at 0502 GMT. When Mr Hart made his 999 call, about his vehicle being on the track, the time was 0612 GMT.

Mr Goss said the distance was 70 miles, and that a police driver had been unable to replicate the journey in the same time, even though it had an escort and had broken the speed limit.

The prosecutor said: "It shows he (Mr Hart) must have been pushing it, pushing it on the non-motorway roads, and on the motorway road."

The trial, which was adjourned until Thursday, is expected to last two weeks.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet
reports from Leeds Crown Court
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