Grieving dad lashes out at court ruling over daughter's death
Father of nursery teacher, 26, who died after being struck by a steel beam sticking out the side of a lorry shouts ‘No, no, no!’ in court as the vehicle’s driver avoids jail for causing her death
- Grieving father of nursery teacher fatally struck by steel beam slams ‘injustice’
- Lorry driver avoided jail after found guilty of causing death by careless driving
- Chloe Morrison, 26, was struck by the rogue beam while walking with her mother
- Her father said judge’s ruling is a ‘travesty of justice’ after courtroom outburst
The distressed father of a nursery teacher who was fatally struck by a rogue steel beam on a lorry shouted ‘no, no, no’ as a judge spared the driver a jail sentence – in what he has since described as a ‘travesty of justice’.
John O’Donnell was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 12 months after he was found guilty of causing death by careless driving.
The 53-year-old struck Chloe Morrison, 26, with a fully extended stabiliser leg which was protruding from his lorry in October 2019 as he drove through Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness.
Ms Morrison was hit in the back, swept off her feet and propelled 115 feet in the air. She subsequently died from multiple fractures to her body.
The ‘beautiful and sensitive’ nursery teacher had been walking along the pavement with her mother moments prior to her death.
The ‘beautiful and sensitive’ nursery teacher (pictured) had been walking along the pavement with her mother moments prior to her death
At the High Court in Sterling, judge Lord Stuart determined O’Donnell’s offence ‘did not warrant a custodial sentence’.
The statement sparked outraged cries from the crowd. Ms Morrison’s father shouted ‘no, no, no. I’m so sorry, Chloe’ while another member of the public stormed out of the courtroom, slamming the back door as they left.
Leaving court, Chloe’s father Robert, known to his loved ones as Bobo, slammed the sentence, and called O’Donnell ‘a bastard’.
Speaking later to The Inverness Courier, described Robert Lord Stuart’s ruling as ‘a travesty of justice’.
He said the family were ‘not in a good place’ in the wake of the legal battle, adding: ‘We need to gather our thoughts about what we feel is a travesty of justice against my darling Chloe.
‘We are absolutely devastated. It’s as if he killed Chloe all over again today such was the reaction to his sentencing.
‘Chloe will always be our beautiful daughter, always in our hearts and memories.’
John O’Donnell was sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for 12 months after he was found guilty of causing death by careless driving
In an earlier statement, Ms Morrison’s family described her as ‘our beautiful, sensitive, funny and much loved daughter, cherished dearly not just by us but by all of her close friends and work colleagues.’
‘Her memories will remain with us forever.’
Throughout the trial, the court heard O’Donnell drove his lorry from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire to the north of Skye on 24 October 2019, where his load of cable ducts was taken off.
He stayed overnight and said he had dropped his stabilising legs the following day because of gales, although he was not trained to do so.
He insisted he did not extend or touch the controls of the outrigger beams – entirely separate from the stabilising legs.
But CCTV showed the nearside outrigger’s yellow warning band was indicating it was unlocked, when he filled up with diesel on Skye.
Evidence showed the warning sign would have been visible in O’Donnell’s nearside mirror.
In evidence, a tearful O’Donnell said he did not know what the yellow sign meant. He agreed if he had understood the warning and seen it in his mirror, ‘Chloe Morrison would still be here today’.
He claimed he had visually checked the lorry during a rest break in Invermoriston, near Fort Augustus, and did not see anything untoward.
But he told the jury: ‘I have lost faith in myself. I don’t have anything left in me to drive HGVs.’
Throughout the trial, the court heard O’Donnell drove his lorry from Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire to the north of Skye on 24 October 2019, where his load of cable ducts was taken off (Stock photo)
A passenger in a car travelling in the opposite direction saw the outrigger swing out seconds before the lorry reached the scene of the collision.
Defence counsel Tony Graham KC said O’Donnell understood ‘the moral responsibility he will take to his own grave over the destruction of the life of Chloe’.
But he said the court could never know how, when, or where the outrigger came to be unlocked.
He added: ‘Death causes devastation to families, and leaves the bereaved in a state of desolation. When it occurs in circumstances in any way bringing culpability to someone else, it will also bring anger.’
O’Donnell was convicted by the jury of causing death by careless driving, but cleared of the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.
Judge Lord Stuart said how the outrigger became insecure was ‘unanswered’.
‘But for the act or omission by which the outriggers became insecure, Ms Morrison’s death would not have occurred,’ he accepted.
‘Had they not been made or left insecure, the accused would not have been left to drive a lorry that was, unbeknownst to him, actually lethal.’
He said it was also not clear why the lorry, made in 2005, had not been serviced by loader-crane makers Palfinger or their agents over its entire life – and whether, had it been serviced, it would have been fitted with safety upgrades that might have warned O’Donnell about the insecure outrigger.
He said such safety upgrades – the latest completely disconnects the lorry’s drive if an outrigger is insecure – had been developed because of known incidents in which vehicles been hit by outriggers.
The court heard it was industry practice at the time for drivers to drive lorries with cranes fitted, without having training in their use, provided they did not use the equipment.
Lord Stuart told O’Donnell: ‘Against this background, whilst recognising the tragic outcome in this case, I consider that placed in its overall context, your culpability for the death of Ms Morrison is significant less than it might otherwise have been.’
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