Page last updated at 16:05 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

M25 coach deaths driver is jailed

Philip Rooney
Philip Rooney has been left "crushed" by the events, the court heard

A coach driver who admitted causing the deaths of three passengers by dangerous driving in a crash near Heathrow Airport has been jailed for five years.

Oxford Crown Court heard that father-of-three Philip Rooney was making a safety announcement while speeding round a bend when he lost control.

The London-to-Aberdeen National Express service overturned on the M4/M25 slip road on 3 January 2007.

Rooney, 49, of Lanarkshire, drove like a man "possessed", the court was told.

Christina Toner, 76, from Monifieth, and Yi Di Lin, 30, a Chinese national, died in the crash while John Carruthers, 78, of Chertsey, Surrey, died in hospital on 1 July.

Four passengers had to have limbs amputated, while 61 others were injured. Many had to be cut from the wreckage by emergency services.

He kept overtaking everything and going like the clappers
A passenger's account

Judge Mr Justice Gross said: "No sentence I pass can undo the events of that day and the deaths and injuries that resulted."

Gail Light, daughter of Ms Toner said: "I have been feeling guilty for feeling sorry for the man but the evidence I heard today changed my mind on that because of the previous convictions he had for speeding."

Richard Latham QC, prosecuting, said Rooney, from Carluke, kept breaking speed limits, as was shown in tachograph readings, as he left Victoria coach station for Heathrow.

Rooney's driving and heavy braking of the double-decker bus caused bags to fall off the luggage shelf, passengers said.

The court heard Rooney was delayed for half-an-hour when one family's luggage could not fit into the coach and he had to call a taxi to carry it.

The coach being taken away for examination
A baby on board the coach lost a leg

As he reached the slip road for the M25, Rooney ignored the 40mph speed limit and was driving at 55mph.

Mr Latham said passengers noted the bus was being "driven significantly faster, as if the driver was seeking to make up for lost time".

When the coach clipped a barrier after leaving Heathrow the driver lost control, resulting in the vehicle skidding and travelling sideways before striking a crash barrier and overturning.

One passenger had said: "After Heathrow the driver drove like he was possessed. He kept overtaking everything and going like the clappers."

Referring to the extent of injuries, Mr Latham gave the example of Samia Berbiche, an Albanian national, who was with her three-year-old son and eight-month-old daughter.

She lost part of her right leg, her son lost part of his right leg and lower left arm, and her baby daughter also lost a leg.

An earlier hearing heard Rooney had been caught speeding in passenger vehicles on five other occasions and was also disciplined by his employer in December 2004 for tampering with a speed limiter.

Mohammed Khamisa QC, defending, said the "traumatised" driver had offered his "heartfelt apologies".

"The events have crushed him and continue to haunt him."

Rooney was also banned from driving for three years.

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