Northern Ireland

Bus driver James Johnston jailed for crushing woman with bus

The scene of the crash at Lisburn bus centre Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The woman died after being hit by the bus at Lisburn bus centre

A bus driver has been jailed for the manslaughter of a woman who was crushed to death by his bus at Lisburn station, County Antrim, in December 2014.

James Johnston had just got out of his bus - which he left in gear with the engine running - when it shot forward.

Charlotte Linda Stewart was walking past the bus at the time and was trapped against a wall of the station.

Johnston, of Killowen Grange, Lisburn, burst into tears when he was sentenced to seven and a half months in prison.

He will serve the same again on licensed release.

'Inherent danger'

Johnston had placed a "third foot" device on the accelerator to keep the engine on.

The 35-year-old bus driver was trying to keep the vehicle warm for passengers on a cold winter's day, Craigavon Crown Court heard.

However, the judge said Johnston had left "a vehicle weighing several tons, driven by a powerful motor" in gear, with the accelerator pedal depressed.

He added that in his view "the inherent danger in such an arrangement... seems obvious."

The judge acknowledged that the bus driver "is clearly a man of good character" who had "suffered considerably" as a result of the accident.

But he added that Ms Stewart's death was a "direct result of the defendant's mishandling of the vehicle he was in charge of".

'Crying and yelling'

Johnston had originally contested the prosecution but, on the morning his trial was due to start last month, he pleaded guilty to Ms Stewart's manslaughter.

The court heard that on the day of the accident, he parked his bus in a bay in front of the inspectors' pod, known as "the bubble".

Seconds after he got out of his vehicle, it mounted a kerb and pinned the mother of four to the wall, causing injuries which resulted in her "rapid" death.

Witnesses ran to Ms Stewart "but were unable to render any meaningful assistance" while Johnston himself, said the judge, could be seen on the CCTV going back to his bus and "bending down in the area of the driver's seat".

One witness gave a statement that said the bus driver was "inconsolable, he was just lying on the floor crying and yelling".

Johnston told a police officer at the scene: "I'm sure I had the handbrake on."

'Cover up'

The "third foot" device was described by the judge as a metal bar which bus drivers use to depress the brake pedal to check their brake lights before their shift.

"However, from the description it is clear that the device could also be used in the same manner to put continuous pressure on the accelerator pedal.

"This is what happened in this case and was the basic cause of the accident," the judge told the court.

Turning back to the CCTV footage, the judge said it was clear that when Johnston got back into the bus after the impact he was "disengaging the third foot from the accelerator".

The prosecution had previously claimed the driver had tried to "cover up" his actions.

'Additional stress'

The judge said said much of the delay in the court case was "due to the defendant's dishonesty and failure to face up to his responsibility" for the accident.

He said the anguish suffered by the victim's family had been compounded by a "palpable sense of grievance that this process has been dragging on for so long".

Johnston, who had been a bus driver for 10 years, has been diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The judge accepted that the defendant had "suffered considerably" but added that an "honest admission" would have shortened the legal process.

In a prepared statement released after Friday's sentencing, her family said "there are no winners today from this tragic incident".

"We will never get over Linda's death, however, today's court result brings us as a family some closure."

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