Fatal A1 collision trial – Thursday

The scene of the collision on the A1 Felton bypass in November 2012.
The scene of the collision on the A1 Felton bypass in November 2012.

A bank boss, who is accused of causing death by dangerous driving following a collision on the A1 in Northumberland, has no memory of the incident ‘in any way, shape or form’, a court has heard.

Gordon Soutar, 50, of Cairneyhill, Dunfermline, is standing trial this week at Newcastle Crown Court. He denies causing death by dangerous driving and the alternative of causing death by careless driving.

It relates to an incident on the A1 Felton bypass on the single-carriageway section on November 12, 2012. At around 7.30am, Soutar’s white BMW was described as drifting into the northbound lane near to the bridge over the River Coquet, clipping a Citroen car before colliding almost head-on with a VW Caddy van. The driver, Nigel Sowerby, 37, from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, was killed.

Soutar, who works as an operations director for Virgin Money in Gosforth, took the stand this afternoon and concluded his evidence by saying he has prayed for Mr Sowerby’s family. “It has been 16 months from the day of that very tragic accident and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought of the family,” he said.

The court heard about his lack of memory about the journey on that day from around Berwick south to the site of the collision. Soutar said he remembered cleaning his windscreen after overtaking some lorries as he approached the town and has ‘the very, very vaguest of memories’ of going past the supermarket to the south of Berwick. Then nothing until coming to after the collision.

He told the jury: “I do have the vaguest of memories of coming to, my head being on the steering wheel, and I thought there was someone next to me in the passenger seat. I do remember panicking at times because I didn’t know what had happened. The first vivid memory I have is in the back of the ambulance because I had a neck brace on and was speaking to someone who was very helpful.”

He added later: “It just feels like I was waking up after passing Berwick, which is very strange.”

Soutar also spoke of his later diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnoea disorder, which has effects akin to chronic sleep deprivation and can lead to micro-sleeps – short periods of unawareness. He claims they are the reason for the collision.

“The biggest difference I have noticed (following treatment) is that my general alertness is much, much better and my ability to take things in is better,” he said. “When I reflect back now on where I was prior to the accident, there were times in meetings where I couldn’t take everything in or I had to write things down where I didn’t before. I had put that down to my age and getting a bit older.”

Following his diagnosis, Soutar was not allowed to drive for a period before he started treatment and was signed off by his doctor. Nevertheless, he now drives very rarely and only with his wife as a passenger. He now commutes from his home in Scotland to Gosforth by train.

Earlier in the day, the court heard from an officer from Northumbria Police, who talked through the crash scene and the various impacts and tyre marks.

He said there was 34metres between the initial collision with the Citroen car and the main impact with the VW Caddy. He said there was no physical evidence as to the speed at the point of the main impact, but added: “I would be surprised if it was above the speed limit.”

This afternoon, jurors also heard statements and evidence from a number of Soutar’s colleagues and friends, all of whom described him as a hard-working, conscientious man who is dedicated to his family. Soutar has never been arrested or interviewed under caution by police and has held a clean driving licence for more than 30 years.

The trial continues and the jury is expected to be sent out to consider its verdict on Monday.

Read the full story from the first three days of the trial.