Trucker on iPad video call before smash left lorry hanging off bridge

A lorry driver, whose vehicle was left hanging over the A2 after jackknifing his truck while talking to his fiancee 7,000 miles away, has escaped going to prison. Richard Mills, 52, who has since been made redundant, has been banned from driving for a year but his jail sentence was suspended, a court heard.

A court heard the cost of the crash and the resulting disruption ran into millions of pounds. Picture: Highways England

A court heard the cost of the crash and the resulting disruption ran into millions of pounds./ppPicture: Highways England

A court heard the cost of the crash and the resulting disruption ran into millions of pounds. Picture: Highways England

Judge Robert Lazarus told him: "Although no one was injured, the harm caused in terms of impact was at 'the highest level', with investigators estimating it to be several millions of pounds." The M25 in both directions and the A2 in both directions were out of use for 13 hours on April 7 last year.

The judge added: "It caused huge disruption to a large number of people and a fairly significant cost in recovering the vehicle from the scene and rendering the bridge over the A2 safe."

Mills from Leicestershire, changed his plea to guilty to dangerous driving after the Crown had finished its case. Prosecutor Stacey-Lee Holland had told Maidstone Crown Court that the incident took place at the Darenth flyover near Dartford linking the A282 and the M25.

The lorry was precariously perched over the A2 near Dartford. Picture: Highways England

The lorry was precariously perched over the A2 near Dartford./ppPicture: Highways England

The lorry was precariously perched over the A2 near Dartford. Picture: Highways England

"At around 3.20pm on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 officers were called to an accident on that road. "The defendant had been driving his HGV lorry along the M25 when he jackknifed, hitting the central reservation, rebounded off of that central reservation across the motorway and then crashing through the barrier on the other side, leaving his lorry hanging precariously over the A2."

She told the jury how the crash caused both the M25 and the A2 to be closed for several hours, because of the "huge disruption and a substantial" amount of damage.

Ms Holland revealed that when officers arrived on scene the defendant had left his cab.

Richard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

Richard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

Richard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

"He told officers that at the time of the accident he had been on a video call to his partner in the Philippines. "He couldn't recall when he made the call but he said the call ended after he said I've crashed. This call had been made via his iPad, which he told officers was sat on the dashboard leaning against an old camera - so not in a proper holder, " she added.

But Mills denied he had been distracted by the call and claimed the accident was because of diesel on the motorway which had caused his HGV to slide. The prosecutor added: "He said the diesel was why he had crashed and that the crash had nothing to do with his call.

"His iPad was seized and the download confirmed he was on a video call for 49 minutes at the time of the accident," Ms Holland added.

Emergency services were called to the scene of the crash on April 7, 2021. Picture: Highways England

Emergency services were called to the scene of the crash on April 7, 2021./ppPicture: Highways England

Emergency services were called to the scene of the crash on April 7, 2021. Picture: Highways England

Mills later claimed he may not have in fact been on a video call when he crashed, it may have been a voice call. The court heard how a police officer later walked the journey from where the HGV began swerving and could find no diesel on the road.

After hours of legal discussions Mills changed his plea to guilty to dangerous driving.

Mills, who was living in Kegworth in Derbyshire at the time but is now believed to be living in Leicestershire. He was given a six-month jail term suspended for 18 months and a year-long driving ban and will have to take an extended test to regain his licence.

The serious crash involving a lorry closed the M25 and A2 near the Darenth Interchange in both directions

The serious crash involving a lorry closed the M25 and A2 near the Darenth Interchange in both directions

The serious crash involving a lorry closed the M25 and A2 near the Darenth Interchange in both directionsRichard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

Richard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

Richard Mills, who was driving the jacknifed truck, has been given a suspended prison sentence Picture: @hedgemyster23

Judge Lazarus said that it had not been "a usual case" of dangerous driving involving alcohol, drugs or speeding, but that Mills had made "a dreadful error of judgment". He told Mills: "You are not the kind of person who chooses to drive vehicles in an obviously reckless way for fun or for whatever reason, and I have no doubt this incident has weighed heavily on your mind."

Earlier in proceedings during legal discussions, the judge had also said he was "entirely confident" the trucker "genuinely believes he wasn't distracted".

But he added: "I suspect the reality is that the defendant had become complacent about being engaged in conversations with his fiancee while he was driving and was, in a sense, taken completely by surprise when he lost control of his vehicle."

He said that although no one was injured, the "harm" caused in terms of impact was at "the highest level", with investigators estimating it to be several millions of pounds.