A bin lorry driver who reversed his recycling truck into a stroke victim’s electric wheelchair, causing the 80 year old pensioner’s death, was jailed today.
Scott Hamilton, from Bonnybridge, who was working for Stirling Council, failed to check behind before backing out to let a car past on a country road.
Neither he nor his driver’s mate noticed that disabled Peter Wills, a skilled linguist who had worked for M15 as a Russian interpreter before teaching for years in Stirlingshire schools, was behind them.
The 7.5-tonne truck collided with Mr Wills’ four-miles-per-hour wheelchair – which he used daily to watch wildlife and red kites – with a “thud”.
The impact broke his neck, crushed his spinal cord, and shattered his ribs, massive injuries that stopped him breathing and led to his death within minutes.
Hamilton (44) appeared for sentencing at the High Court in Stirling after the Crown accepted his plea guilty of guilty to causing death by careless driving on the second day of a jury trial last month.
Judge Lord Ericht told him that no sentence but a custodial one was appropriate. He sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment, adding that had he not pleaded guilty it would have been 15 months. He also banned him from driving for 12 months.
He told him: “Mr Wills enjoyed the freedom that his motorised wheelchair gave him. Almost every day in life he was out and about on country roads near his home.
“By your actions, you have caused his death, and the end of a marriage which his widow said was ‘paradise’. That is something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. At the time of the incident you were well aware of the risks of reversing.
“You were aware that Mr Wills was somewhere on the road behind you, as you had passed him a couple of minutes previously. You failed to have proper regard to Mr Wills as a particularly vulnerable road user.”
The incident happened around mid-morning on December 3, 2014 on a single track road near the Sheriffmuir Battlefield, above Dunblane, Perthshire, yards from the 18th century former drovers’ inn where Mr Wills and his American wife of 50 years, Virginia, lived, and which he had personally restored before his stroke eight years earlier robbed him of speech and partially paralysed him.
Advocate depute Jane Farquharson said: “Mr Wills’ life-ending injuries were sustained as a direct result of the impact with the rear of the refuse lorry as it reversed backwards.”
Investigators found furrows on the tarmac which indicated the wheelchair had been pushed backwards for three-quarters of a metre, before it was pushed over and crushed. They checked the view Hamilton would have had at the time.
They found the rear view was restricted by the width and height of the vehicle, and the view from the door mirrors was “further compromised” by the fact that the back of the lorry was facing slightly uphill, so Mr Wills would have been completely in the driver’s blind spot.
Ms Farquharson said Hamilton had signed off training documents only nine months earlier which advised council drivers to “reduce reversing manoeuvres wherever possible, only reverse when safe to do so, and exercise extreme caution”. She said this confirmed Hamilton was aware of the dangers of reversing, and what safety measures to take.
She said: “His plea of guilty acknowledges that he failed to implement them.”
The incident happened three weeks before the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy that left six dead and 15 injured.
Hamilton’s lawyer, solicitor-advocate George Pollock, said that in Hamilton’s case there was no question of an underlying medical condition of which his client was aware.
He said Hamilton’s actions had been “the antithesis of aggressive driving”, and he had been trying to accommodate the driver coming the other way.
He said: “It was a mistake made while trying to be polite.”
He said Hamilton, a first offender and carer for his elderly mother, had lost his job as a result.
Hamilton did not give evidence during his trial, but his assistant Lee McEwan, 18 at the time, recalled the incident in the witness box.
He said Hamilton had asked him if he could see anything in his mirror, he said “no” , and Hamilton put the lorry into reverse.
He said: “It was just a split second thing. We assumed there was nothing there. We went back a few yards and then we heard the thud.”
He said he had seen Mr Wills in his wheelchair earlier, and the fact they had hit him was “the first thing that came into his head”.
He found the wheelchair lodged between two beams at the back of the lorry, and Mr Wills on the road, with “blood gushing out of his head”.
He phoned 999, and Hamilton gave Mr Wills CPR until the emergency services arrived. Paramedics found Mr Wills unconscious and with no pulse. Doctors arrived by police helicopter, and he was pronounced dead.
Hamilton was crying and saying: “I didn’t see him, I didn’t see him”.
Mrs Wills, known as Ginger, now also 80, a mother-of-three and a grandmother, said her 50-year marriage to Mr Wills, at one time Russian examiner for all Scottish schools, had been “paradise”.
For 15 years the couple ran an antiquarian bookshop in Bridge of Allan. After his plea of guilty, she said she bore Hamilton no ill-will and hadn’t wanted him to go to jail.
But she said her husband’s death had “devastated” their whole family. She said: “I don’t really care what happens to the driver, to be honest.
“But the other day one of my children said they saw a bin lorry with a sign on the back saying ‘we always check before reversing’.
“They thought that had gone on the backs of the lorries soon after Peter’s death. We’d like to think that what happened to him has made people, and the council, more careful.
“We’d like to think that by his death, perhaps, the death of a child, or a cyclist, in the future might be prevented.”
The court heard that since the tragedy, Stirling Council recycling lorries had been fitted with reversing sensors.