Farmer Henry Bett denies causing death of 43-year-old mother by dangerous driving in tractor at Castle Acre
- Credit: PA
A young Norfolk farmer has gone on trial after his tractor collided head-on with a car on a country road, killing a 43-year-old mother.
Henry Bett, known as Harry, then 25, of Hall Lane, Thornham, denies causing the death of Rebecca Brown in Castle Acre by driving dangerously on 4 December 2013. He admits causing her death by careless driving, the jury was told.
Mrs Brown's son Thomas, then 17, was a front seat passenger in the family Fiat people carrier, when the incident happened at 3pm on a bend in West Acre Road.
The prosecution claimed that Mrs Brown pulled on to the verge to allow the tractor to pass, but that Bett did not see her from 100m away and that his tractor was over the centre of the unmarked road when it 'crushed' the driver's side of the Fiat.
The front offside wing of the tractor was ripped off in the impact.
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There was room for two vehicles to pass safely, the jury at Cambridge Crown Court was told at the start of the trial, which is expected to last the rest of the week.
Prosecutor Simon Wilshire, opening the case, alleged that Bett's driving was dangerous because it fell 'far below' that of a competent or careful driver.
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That was due to the size of the tractor and dimensions of the road, the defendant's position in the carriageway, and that he failed to see Mrs Brown's vehicle in good time despite 100m visibility and take avoiding action.
He also claimed that Bett was driving faster than the permitted speed limit for that vehicle, which was 20mph on a public road.
He continued: 'Mrs Brown appears to have seen the tractor coming towards her and taken action to give it space to pass safely as she pulled over on her nearside verge.
'The investigation reveals that Bett in contrast appeared not to see Mrs Brown's car, even though there was 100m visibility leading up to the collision. He appears to have driven into the Fiat and continued for 45m down the road before coming to a halt.'
The court heard that Mrs Brown and her son were on their way to an appointment at King's Lynn Hospital. She had smiled and waved at another motorist she knew just before going into West Acre Road.
In a statement to police, her son Thomas said he first saw the tractor where the road started to get 'bendy'.
'He remembered thinking to himself 'What the hell is he doing?' because he was in the middle of the road,' said Mr Wilshire.
Three members of the public stopped to help. A distraught Bett told one he had got as far over as he could but the Fiat came round the corner in the middle of the road and went straight into him, the jury was told.
Two of the passing motorists helped perform CPR on Mrs Brown, as did Thomas and the defendant but she was certified dead at the scene by a paramedic.
A forensic police reconstruction of the impact concluded that the Fiat was on the nearside and the tractor in the middle of the road travelling eastwards, and they collided front offside to front offside, said the prosecutor.
He added: 'It revealed that, moments before the collision, Mrs Brown pulled her vehicle over on to the verge.'
Bett, now 26, was driving home after a day working at Narford Farm for Charles Fountaine. He had driven that route a dozen times before in a tractor, the court was told.
He looked over the hedges and saw nothing coming down the hill into the bend.
In interview, he told police that at the apex of the bend he saw the car ten feet in front of him. He claimed it was over the centre of the road. He said he was right up hard against his side of the road, tried to get further up and braked hard but then hit the car. He claimed he was travelling at between 35-40kph [correct].
Defence counsel William Harbage QC in an opening address told jurors: 'Bett was absolutely distraught after what had happened and helped to perform CPR on Mrs Brown.'
He continued: 'Bett accepts that he was at fault for what must have been a horrific and distressing accident.
'The issue is whether his driving was careless or dangerous. It's whether his driving fell below the standard of the careful competent driver or whether it fell far below.
'The issue is his position on the road and the speed he was going.
'There's insufficient physical evidence from which to calculate the exact speed of the tractor,' he claimed.
Mr Harbage said some of what Bett said at the time 'cannot be right' but he was 25, in shock, traumatised 'and still in denial afterwards because of the enormity of the consequences which were still sinking in'.
He now admitted careless driving and did not seek to put any blame on Mrs Brown.
'This tractor was truly enormous. He was driving that at the end of a hard day's work and sadly and tragically, a momentary error, his error, has caused enormous consequences.
'The fact he made a mistake doesn't necessarily make him guilty of dangerous driving. A momentary lapse falls below but not far below the standard expected.'
The trial continues.