A FORMER Warwickshire Magistrate has escaped jail after his car ploughed into a Stratford town centre coffee shop.
Alan Marks, whose VW Touran smashed into the Costa Coffee shop in Henley Street in April 2012 had denied dangerous driving. Several people were seriously hurt including 65-year-old Mr Marks who spent nearly two months in hospital.
But despite his denial, a jury at Birmingham Crown Court took four hours to return a unanimous guilty verdict.
He was given a two year conditional discharge. He was also banned from driving for two years, and will have to sit another test before he can drive again. He has been ordered to pay £1200 in costs.
The Shottery resident had argued the car’s dramatic acceleration could only be explained by a mechanical fault.
Over three days of evidence the court heard how Mr Marks – who has multiple sclerosis and has used a wheelchair since the crash – had been travelling along High Street when he encountered a parked van outside Debenhams. A car was coming the other way so he attempted to slow down.
He described being thrown back into his seat as the automatic, diesel-engined car suddenly “took off” towards the island where High Street meets Henley Street. In the seconds that followed Mr Marks believes he made contact with the brake pedal but it failed to slow the car.
By the time he smashed into the wall between Costa Coffee and White Stuff the car’s speed was estimated at between 45mph and 60mph.
Much of the trial focused on the possibility of an engine failure known as “diesel runaway” or a short-circuited gear box which the defence argued could have caused the sudden acceleration.
Two expert witnesses asserted these defects could not have caused the crash, but both came under fire from defence counsel Michael Duck.
He even suggested a report provided by Vehicle Examiner Michael Shone was largely lifted from online encyclopedia Wikipedia and another webpage. When questioned, Mr Shone said he had sourced his information from workshop manuals.
In his closing remarks Mr Duck said: “I feel like I have been in a parallel universe at times with some of the evidence which has been given this week.
“There were occasions it was reduced to almost comedy, and there is nothing comical about this case.”
The prosecution’s case included CCTV video footage of the crash in which there was no evidence of the car’s brake lights coming on.
Stefan Kolodynski, prosecuting counsel, said it was “beyond the realm of common sense” for all three of the car’s brake lights to have failed and argued the possibility of mechanical failure could be ruled out given the car’s pre-crash condition and the evidence given by expert witnesses.
He added Mr Marks method of driving, using his left foot for the brake and right foot for the accelerator, was itself a “recipe for disaster.”