Byline: PATRICK MULCHRONE
THE motorist who caused the Selby rail disaster in which 10 people died had been up all night chatting to a woman he met on the internet, a court heard yesterday.
Gary Hart, 37, allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover which careered off a motorway and into the path of an early morning express train which then ploughed into an oncoming coal loco.
The dad-of-four, who was separated from his wife Elaine at the time, had spent "the majority" of the previous night talking on the phone to Kristeen Panter, the jury was told.
Kristeen had answered his advert on a dating agency website just a week earlier.
They had since made contact by email and exchanged text messages and phone numbers. By the time of the crash "there was a high degree of mutual interest," the court heard.
After the disaster, Hart told police who quizzed him about his tiredness that he had been "buzzing with excitement" about his relationship with Kristeen and the prospect of meeting her that day.
Prosecutor James Goss, QC, told Leeds Crown Court officers had investigated Hart's phone records.
He said: "It was discovered he had not slept the previous night or even gone to bed, but had spent over five hours on the phone to a lady he had met over the internet.
"Accordingly, on the morning of the collision, he drove at a time he was deprived of sleep and in circumstances and for such a period that the prosecution alleges he fell asleep as he was driving."
Mr Goss said Hart must have been aware of his drowsiness and fought it for a time before dozing off and leaving the road.
He added: "That was dangerous driving and tragically caused the deaths of other people.
"Although the circumstances are highly unusual and the consequences exceptional in their magnitude, any motorist who falls asleep while driving endangers others."
Opening the prosecution, Mr Goss reminded the jury of events on February 28 when the 4.45am GNER Newcastle to London passenger train, travelling at 117mph, passed under an M62 motorway bridge near Selby, West Yorks, soon after 6am.
It smashed into Hart's Land Rover Defender which had been towing a Renault estate on a trailer when it careered down an embankment.
Mr Goss said: "It came to rest on the southbound track and as a result of that collision the front engine of the GNER train was derailed to its right, but continued to run south, as indeed did the whole train, for some 500 metres before it was thrown further to the right by some points. …