Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Runaway lorry driver cleared
Drama ended safely after a major police operation
The driver of a runaway lorry which sparked a major police operation on the M1 has been cleared of dangerous driving.
But a six-man, six-woman jury took just over one hour to clear him at Harrow Crown Court on Monday.
As the verdict was announced, Mr Rayner threw back his head and sighed audibly.
The court had heard Mr Rayner describe the incident, which began on a Sunday morning as he returned from unloading a lorry-load of household waste at a Bedfordshire landfill site.
As Mr Rayner had earlier over-ridden the lorry's speed limiter, there was nothing to prevent the lorry exceeding its legal 56mph limit and travelling at up to 80mph.
His brakes then failed. As he wove a path through slower moving coaches, cars and lorries, he first phoned his father for advice, and then dialled 999.
Within minutes police patrol cars were providing a "rolling escort" and a police helicopter was following from above, while officers shouted instructions to him on his mobile phone.
As the lorry continued towards the end of the motorway, Mr Rayner rejected various police suggestions as to how he might stop, convinced they could cause him to lose control and overturn.
It later emerged officers had been so worried they evacuated the Staples Corner roundabout at the end of the motorway, alerted other emergency services, and considered closing the opposite northbound carriageway in case he ploughed across the central reservation.
Mr Rayner, convinced he would not survive if he failed to stop before the road ran out, eventually decided he had no option but to steer on to the hard shoulder and use the crash barriers to bring him to a halt, a few miles before the end of the motorway.
Mr Rayner rejected Crown claims that he was a "thrill-seeker" who could easily have stopped much earlier, telling the court he was genuinely concerned the police suggestions would cause him to lose control and possibly kill himself and others.
"It was not fun at all," he insisted. "I was convinced I was going to die."
Thanks for support
Mr Rayner's barrister denied the Crown's claim that his client should have stopped much earlier, saying that was like suggesting he should have risked his life sooner rather than later.
Richard Kovalevsky also ridiculed the prosecution's complaint that Rayner had not been panicking when he phoned police.
"Well, thank God for that, because it would not be a trial, it would be an inquest," he said.
Outside the court, Mr Rayner's solicitor Bruce Kent read out a statement from his client.
"The last year has been a difficult year. Last week and this week was particularly so," he said. "But it is over and the jury have reached a just decision. We can now go home and restart our lives."
Mr Rayner also spoke of his gratitude to the many people, including lorry drivers, who sent him messages of support.
"Our original anger has passed and we now wish to be left as we were, unknown and of no interest to the press," he said. "We hope they will now help us to do this."