Drug-fuelled dumper truck driver left trail of destruction on Norfolk and Suffolk roads

A man who got into a row with his employers left a trail of destruction when he took a dumper truck on a 37-mile journey through Norfolk and Suffolk while being chased by police.

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In a rampage on the roads stretching from Norwich to Brandon on July 20 last year, Nicholas Churchill, who had taken drugs, caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage, smashing police cars and flattening street furniture, Norwich Magistrates' Court heard.

Police had been alerted at about 12.30pm, suspecting the 30-tonne articulated dumper truck had been stolen as it careered around the Thickthorn roundabout, near Norwich.

But it has now emerged the occupant had been a legitimate driver, and had taken the vehicle following a dispute with his employers over the air conditioning in his cab.

Six police cars and the helicopter were swiftly scrambled to a chase along the A11, but were unable to put the brake on Churchill's driving, the court was told yesterday. He led them on the chase along the A140, A11, A134, Santon Road, Methwold Road, Cranwich Heath Road, the B1112, B1106 and Rectory Lane, Brandon, before coming to a halt.

Swerving dangerously along country roads, the truck damaged two police cars in its path, one with an officer inside who was lucky to escape from the vehicle uninjured.

Appearing at court for the first time since the day of destruction, Churchill admitted he had been under the influence of drugs at the time. The 40-year-old also pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving.

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After ploughing through various police vehicles, Churchill has amassed a repair bill of £26,572.36 to police property. The truck itself had sustained damage in the region of £1,500 before it was brought to rest at Thetford Road in Brandon.

Prosecutor Fergus Harold commended Churchill for admitting all offences as soon as he possibly could. 'The vehicle he was driving that day attracted a significant police pursuit, and caused a large amount of damage to the vehicles involved,' he told the court.

'It started off as a case that had little justification. The defendant was at work driving his vehicle and had taken issue with his employers about the air conditioning in his cab.

'He was told to get on with his job, but instead he has taken his vehicle on to the highway, and there followed a lengthy pursuit with a number of police cars and the helicopter dispatched.'

The court was told Churchill had not been in trouble with the police for eight years prior to the incident, when he was convicted of drink-driving.

Jeremy Kendall, representing Churchill, said there was 'significant personal mitigation' on his behalf which led to the circumstances of July 20 of last year.

For the past six months since his arrest, Churchill of Mounts Pit Lane, Brandon, has been on bail conditions not to drive any vehicle on any public road, or to go to Spixworth quarry.

Magistrates have now given him an interim driving disqualification, and sent him to Norwich Crown Court to be sentenced for all offences on February 5.

• TWO HOURS OF DRAMA ON THE ROADS

The dramatic events of July 20 started to unfold at about 12.30pm at Thickthorn round-about, when police were alerted to reports of an allegedly stolen 30-tonne articulated dumper truck being driven along the highway in a dangerous manner.

Their reaction was swift – within moments six police cars were in pursuit southbound down the A11, with the helicopter circling above and a message was sent to drivers: be careful.

Witnesses reported seeing it weaving across the road. When it reached Attleborough, rather than negotiate the roundabout at Breckland Lodge, it lurched over the top, flattening signs in its path.

At Snetterton, the truck smashed into the side of a police car, leaving dents down one side.

Turning right on to the A134, the vehicle continued for about six miles before veering down a dirt track leading to the Forestry Commission East of England headquarters in Santon Downham.

Down this road, the destruction continued, with two more police cars badly damaged – including one that had an officer inside.

His car was shoved along the road by the truck and he managed to escape uninjured but shaken.

At some point, exactly where is unclear, the vehicle returned to the A134, passing through Mundford, where customers in a café reported seeing police cars and the helicopter in pursuit.

Swerving left at the roundabout, the truck arrived in Brandon, negotiating the level crossing and the town's busy high street.

Veering on to the Market Hill, knocking down two bollards in its path, it avoided people drinking outside nearby pubs or visiting shops on the square, before returning to Bury Road, reaching Thetford Road, its final destination, at 2.30pm.