Lorry driver who was accessing apps on phone before fatal minibus crash jailed

Kim Pilling, PA
·4-min read

A killer HGV driver who “prioritised” checking his Facebook account at the wheel over the safety of other road users has been jailed for eight years and 10 months.

James Majury, 33, was said to have effectively “unleashed a 19.2-tonne battering ram with his eyes closed” on the M58 motorway in Lancashire as he opened apps on his mobile phone and sent text messages while driving at speeds up to 56mph.

He accessed the Facebook app less than a minute before his Mercedes Arocs vehicle, heavily laden with scaffolding, ploughed into the back of a nine-seater minibus carrying pupils and staff from Pontville School, a special educational needs facility in Ormskirk.

Majury slammed on his brakes just half a second before hitting the minibus, Preston Crown Court heard.

Joe Cairns
Joe Cairns was 14 when he died (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

Joe Cairns, 14, from Radcliffe, Greater Manchester, and school support worker Anne Kerr, 50, from Southport, died from their injuries at the scene in Bickerstaffe, Lancashire, on January 8 last year.

Sentencing Majury on Friday, Judge Robert Altham said: “The sad conclusion was this. The defendant did not see the obvious minibus and of course its precious occupants because he prioritised checking his Facebook over the safety of anyone else on the road that day.

“The force of the impact was so great the rear portion of the minibus was completely crushed.

“In a split second, those two lives were lost. These were precious individuals indeed. Their lives and the lives of those close to them have been laid waste by this defendant.”

In February, Majury, of Milton Road, Coppull, Chorley, pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and five counts of causing serious injury.

Before the crash at 8.42am, there were warning signs of a lane closure on the approaching exit slip road and there was an obvious build-up of queuing traffic.

Anne Kerr
Anne Kerr’s family described the ‘devastation’ caused by her death (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

Five other people were seriously injured in the multi-vehicle collision close to junction three of the westbound carriageway.

Dash-cam footage from a Ford Transit van, two vehicles in front of Majury’s lorry, which was played in court, showed that the impact was so hard that it mounted the roadside embankment.

The van driver was suffered a fracture of the spine and still endures pain, the court was told.

Majury had opened a number of apps during his journey, including medieval fantasy game Hustle Castle, Sky Sports News and Facebook, as well as responding to text messages from his mother.

He also twice manually unlocked his phone by entering a six-digit pin.

Judge Altham said: “It would seem the phone was in his hand so he could use Facebook when 50 seconds later he struck the minibus.”

James Majury
HGV driver James Majury has been jailed for eight years (Lancashire Constabulary/PA)

James Ageros QC, defending Majury, said: “He wishes to apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly to all of the families so desperately affected by his appalling actions that day.

“The effect of what he did – for what it’s worth – stays with him every day.”

The court heard that the married father-of-one suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his actions.

In a statement read to the court, Mrs Kerr’s husband, Simon, said: “There are no winners for anybody involved in this. I hope that people will remember this and think about the devastation that has been caused before picking up their phone whilst driving.”

Joe’s mother, Steph Cairns, said Majury’s actions were “so selfish and utterly mindless”, while his father, Andrew, told the court: “They say ‘death by dangerous’ but I say ‘no’ – it’s murder in my eyes.”

Inspector Claire Pearson, from Lancashire Road Policing Unit, said: “Joe and Anne’s families can’t bring their loved ones back but what they have asked is that people listen to what has happened here and learn that it is never safe to use a phone whilst you’re driving.”

Majury will be banned from driving for six years when he is released on licence halfway through his sentence.