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Lorry driver jailed for 8 1/2 years for killing LEJOG charity riders

Toby Wallace & Andrew McMenigall "mown down" by driver who "had almost certainly fallen asleep"...

A lorry driver who killed two cyclists on the A30 on Cornwall last year has been jailed for eight and a half years after pleading guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving, reports the BBC.

At Truro Crown Court, Robert Palmer, 32, also entered a guilty plea for dangerous driving after an incident two months after the fatal collision in which he injured another driver. Palmer was on bail over the deaths at the time.

Toby Wallace, 36 and Andrew McMenigall, 47 were killed when Palmer drove his lorry into them on the morning of Tuesday July 2, 2013 on the A30 in Cornwall. 

Mr Wallace and Mr McMenigall were 40 miles into the 960-mile journey from Land's End to John O'Groats when they were killed.

The two were colleagues at Aberdeen Asset Management where Andrew McMenigall, from Edinburgh, was a senior investment manager and Toby Wallace worked in the company's Philadelphia office.

They were riding the length of Great Britain to raise funds for the Kirsten Scott Memorial Trust, which was set up in memory of a colleague who lost her battle with cancer in October 2011.

The court heard that Palmer "should've been able to see" the two riders. His speed-limited lorry was doing 56mph in good visibility, but witnesses said he took no action to avoid the collision.

Prosecutors said Palmer had not had enough rest periods between shifts at work and had falsified rest records.

The lawyer representing the wives of the two men has described the circumstances of the second offence as "shockingly identical" to the fatal collision.  Palmer had been deriving his lorry up a steep hill on the A30 when he ploughed into the back of another lorry driven by Brian Rabey.

Mr Rabey's vehicle overturned, and he was lucky to escape with only minor injuries.

In his sentencing Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC condemned the actions of Palmer, saying he should not have been driving as he was suffering from extreme fatigue and exhaustion before hitting the cyclists.

The judge explained how Palmer had been working during his compulsory rest periods and had altered his tachograph to avoid these rest periods.

The judge said: "The evidence is at the time when this accident occurred you had almost certainly fallen asleep but it is equally clear you were disregarding the rules of the road by texting continuously and it would seem at length.

"You completely ignored their presence on the road. In the words of prosecutor Mr Lee you mowed them down.

"It is clear that at the time when this tragic accident occurred you were suffering from extreme fatigue and exhaustion.

"You should not have been driving at all at that time. You failed to ensure that you took sufficient rests. People should not drive when they are feeling very sleepy or as you were totally exhausted.

"All the indications are that long before the fatal collision you must or should have been aware of your condition.

"It is also clear - although I accept not a primary cause of the accident - you had been inappropriately and illegally using your mobile telephone.

"You were using it habitually. People who use a handheld mobile telephone and text while driving carry a terrible risk to other road users.

"The reason's perfectly obvious - a driver's attention to the road is disturbed by his or her texting."

The judge paid tribute to the two dead men, who he described as "fine and good men" who were very successfull personally and professionally.

He said: "Both men were experienced and safe cyclists. It is clear at the relevant time they were visible to other road users.

"Both men wanted to raise money for a truly worthy cause. They were the kind of people who make this world a better place for the rest of us."

William Sellick, mitigating, said Palmer was truly sorry for having "blighted the lives of two families".

"It is clear that his remorse is genuine and profound. He is overwhelmed by the enormity of what he has done," Sellick said, adding that it was unlikely Palmer would ever drive professionally again.

In additio to the custodial sentence, the judge banned Palmer from driving for ten years.

Statement from families

Following the sentencing of Palmer, the widows of Mr McMenigall and Mr Wallace, released this statement:

“There are no words to describe the devastation and loss that we, and both families, feel following the deaths of our husbands, they were exceptional and giant men in every sense of the word.

“It is a tragedy that so many other families are also mourning loved ones who have been killed on Britain’s roads, particularly when many of these deaths were completely avoidable.

“So many of these families do not ever see this sentence brought against the person who has killed their husband, their child, their brother, their father.

“UK transport laws are lenient, charges are difficult and onerous to attain and less and less resource is being dedicated to road traffic collisions.

“Toby and Andrew loved cycling, we believe that the rise in the popularity of the sport must be met by those with the responsibility to improve our transport infrastructure and improve education for drivers.

“We would like to thank everyone who has supported us and been involved in getting us this far.”

Sally Moore from law firm Leigh Day who is representing both Toby’s wife Claire Wallace and Andrew’s wife Anne McMenigall, said:

“It seems incredible that this man was ever let behind the wheel of any vehicle never mind a heavy goods vehicle.

“The judge clearly detailed his criminal behavior, which resulted in these deaths and astonishingly caused another crash, resulting in serious injuries to another driver, just 10 weeks after killing Toby and Andrew and whilst on bail for these deaths.

“The circumstances of this second collision were shockingly similar to the fatal collision which killed my clients’ husbands.

“Drivers of any vehicle, particularly a heavy goods vehicles, carry a significant level of responsibility to other road users.

“The deaths of Toby Wallace and Andrew McMenigall tragically illustrate the catastrophic consequences to cyclists and their families when a criminal lack of respect for other road users replaces that sense of responsibility.”

RoadJustice comment

A spokesperson for the CTC's RoadJustice campaign said: "Cycling on rural A roads carries a risk of death per mile travelled 20 times higher than on urban minor roads, however, the A30 is the quickest and easiest route for those cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

"Too often we hear of terrible tragedies like this case occurring on Britain’s busiest roads. CTC has repeatedly called on the Highways Agency to improve conditions for cyclists on its network.

"CTC is calling for interim driving bans to be imposed on drivers arrested following crashes which seriously injure or kill another person, so that drivers don’t present an ongoing threat to the public before they are formally charged.

"The driving ban imposed in this case is considerably longer than the majority of driving bans given for causing death and bodily harm offences, which tend to fall within the range of one to three years. Palmer will also have to sit an extended re-test before regaining his licence, as all drivers convicted of a dangerous driving offence must do."

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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