Judge urged not to jail elderly driver, 90, who accidentally killed couple in hospital crash

Philip Bull killed Clare Haslam and Deborah Clifton when he reversed his car into them (PA)

An elderly driver who killed a couple when he accidentally reversed his car into them should not be sent to jail, a judge has been urged.

Retired textiles merchant Philip Bull, 90, wrongly pressed the accelerator of his automatic transmission Ford Focus instead of the brake after dropping his wife off at Withington Community Hospital on 7 March.

The vehicle careered out of control into the path of Clare Haslam, 44, and Deborah Clifton, 49, who were both pronounced dead shortly after the incident.

Bull, who served in the Armed Forces, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and was said to be “hugely remorseful”.

He went on to tell an author of a pre-sentence report: “I cannot think of any way worse to come to the end of my life having now ended the lives of others”, Manchester Crown Court heard.

His barrister, Richard Vardon, argued the circumstances of the tragic case were “exceptional” and could lead the judge to impose a suspended sentence.

For more than a decade the defendant had been carer for his wife of 65 years, Audrey Bull, who had a number of health problems including Alzheimer’s disease, he said.

The rear of the car hit a metal bollard before it struck Ms Haslam at speed and went on to collide with Ms Clifton (PA)

He said Mrs Bull could not be cared for at home without the defendant and she would have to be rehoused.

Mr Vardon told the court: “This was a man who had turned to make a reverse manoeuvre and as a result there was a foot displacement.

“That was the single cause of this tragedy and what you had thereafter was the defendant misapplying his foot to the wrong pedal, and then more forcefully because he believed he was pressing the brake rather than the accelerator.”

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He said the unintended acceleration was “not an uncommon phenomenon” and had nothing do with the age of the defendant who had no medical problems at the time.

Judge Martin Walsh said it was an “extremely difficult and sensitive sentencing exercise” and said he would sentence the defendant on Tuesday morning.

Sarah Johnston, prosecuting, said CCTV captured the defendant parking in the ambulance bay outside the hospital just after 2pm.

Bull wrongly pressed the accelerator of his automatic transmission Ford Focus instead of the brake after dropping his wife off at Withington Community Hospital (Geograph)

He was seen getting out of the vehicle and set up the walking frame for his wife , the court was told.

As Mrs Bull moved away the defendant reversed his vehicle which suddenly accelerated as he began to turn the steering wheel to his right, said the prosecutor.

The rear of the car hit a metal bollard before it struck Ms Haslam at speed and went on to collide with Ms Clifton, who was “seemingly trying to get out of the way”.

Bystanders came to the aid of both women and managed to lift the car off Ms Clifton.

Ms Haslam showed no signs of life and died shortly after at Wythenshawe Hospital, the court heard. A post-mortem examination showed she suffered severe chest injuries.

Ms Clifton was later pronounced dead at Manchester Royal Infirmary and her post-mortem revealed she had sustained multiple fractures and a crushed liver.

Bull is due to be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court (Wikipedia)

The prosecutor said witnesses described the defendant as looking “confused” and appearing not to know what had taken place.

Interviewed by police, he said he recalled hearing the roar of his engine and thought at the time he was pressing hard on the brake but later realised it was the accelerator.

Ms Johnston said personal statements from the victims’s families – who packed the public gallery of the courtroom – had detailed “the profound impact of the loss of these two lives”.

Mr Vardon said of the defendant: “This is a man of impeccably good character, worked all his life, served his country in the armed forces, and has a good driving record.”

He added: “He is hugely remorseful as to what occurred. He understands the gravity and impact his actions have had.”

Bull, of Button Lane, Wythenshawe, had his bail extended ahead of sentencing at 10am on Tuesday.

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