STRAIGHT TALK: Waiving court bill over A17 pile-up is rough justice

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IT was a bright and sunny spring morning.

People were making their way to work; many schoolchildren were enjoying a lie-in on half-term holiday.

Sounds like the lead-up to a key moment in a disaster story, doesn’t it? It very nearly was.

When Nicolaas Berkhout’s lorry crashed into the back of a stationary line of traffic on the A17 at Fleet last Wednesday several of the casualties in the nine vehicles ahead thought they were going to die. The driver of one car shunted sideways thought he was “done and dusted”.

It was a chaotic scene of damage with a large MPV left perched on top of another vehicle.

One senior accident investigation officer was absolutely stunned that nobody had been killed.

Berkhout was travelling at 47mph at the time of the accident. The legal limit for his class of lorry is 40.

The Dutchman pleaded guilty to driving without due care and was fined £500 with an order made to pay £85 costs and £15 victim surcharge. He had his driving licence endorsed with nine points.

But here’s the thing which really grinds with me – and I would imagine at least some of the unfortunate people involved in that collision.

He didn’t have to pay a penny of that £600 because he had spent a day in custody awaiting his court appearance. Since when have we given a night in a police cell as an option for waiving a court bill? I’d imagine there would be a few takers.

And why, if it was felt reasonable to waive the fine, was the prosecution costs and victim surcharge written off too?

Four of the six cars involved are likely to be insurance write-offs (bunking up all our premiums, no doubt); two others will need extensive repairs (and there’s a few more quid added on).

I expect some of the people involved have got horrible memories of the point of impact and the ensuing bewilderment and worry.

Thousands of motorists and hundreds of businesses were affected by the nine-hour closure of a stretch of the A17.

The authorities should be applauded for speedily arranging for the lorry driver to appear at court the following day. But what were the Grantham magistrates thinking of?

I’m not saying the guy should have been hanged, drawn and quartered because, if we’re honest, we are all guilty of occasionally taking our eye off the road for the wrong reasons.

But this was just another case of justice leaving a sour taste in the mouth.