The son of one of the two victims killed in a tragic accident caused by an HGV driver has offered his family’s forgiveness as a judge passed sentence.

Christopher Kavanagh, who was nearing retirement after a lengthy, unblemished career as a driver, was travelling in his articulated lorry along the A59 in Sawley on October 6, 2022, when a “momentary lapse of concentration and judgement” resulted in a head-on crash.

Burnley Crown Court heard how Thomas Snape and Margaret Dearden were travelling in the opposite direction to Kavanagh, when he “instinctively” pulled out in front of them to try and avoid crashing into the back of a van, which was indicating to turn right and had stopped in the middle of the carriageway. 

Kavanagh, of Martin Drive, Darwen, pleaded guilty to causing the deaths by careless driving of Thomas Snape and Margaret Dearden at Blackburn Magistrates’ Court in January.

At a sentence hearing on Thursday (February 22), Richard Dearden, the son of 63-year-old Margaret Dearden, said he and his family offered their “forgiveness” to Kavanagh as this is what his mother would have wanted.

Part of his victim personal statement, which was read out in court, stated: “My family do not believe my mother would have wanted the lorry driver to go to prison.

“We do not want this at all. We also understand he was a few months away from his retirement, and we also believe he took the appropriate checks on the day of the accident.

“Although we do not know him, he is a human being first, and none of us are infallible.

“My father, brother and I also forgive him for what happened, and I hope he can extend that forgiveness to himself.”

Mr Snape and Mrs Dearden were travelling along the A59 at Sawley in a Chrysler car when the lorry, being driven at 55mph by Kavanagh, crossed onto their carriageway and hit their vehicle head on.

Despite the efforts of the emergency services both were declared dead at the scene.

The incident had been caught on the dashcam of the lorry being driven by the defendant, and showed Kavanagh driving in an appropriate manner while following the van.

Paul Brookwell, prosecuting said the van driver was seeking to turn right and his indicator and brake lights were clearly visible.

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He said: “He couldn’t make the manoeuvre because of traffic coming the other way and came to a stop.

“Essentially, Kavanagh recognised that he was closing in on the van but was too late to react appropriately.

“When he did react and braked, it was too late. He pulled to the right and into the path of the vehicle coming in the other direction, and of course, the crash occurred.”

Kavanagh, 69, had no previous convictions, and before the accident had a clean driving licence.

In mitigation for Kavanagh, Rachel Woods told the court: “The defendant has written a short letter which I will read out.

“It says: ‘First of all I wish to extend my heart felt sympathy to the family and friends of Thomas Snape and Margaret Dearden. I was nearing retirement with a 14-year unblemished record, and in a split second that changed and resulted in tragic consequences. I still have nightmares about it. I know many lives have been ruined including my own life and I will have to live with this forever.’

“This was a terrible tragedy brought about by the defendant’s lapse of judgement and concentration in a situation where the consequences were overwhelming.

“He had failed to recognise the closing distance because of the speed the vehicle ahead of him was travelling.

“Christopher Kavanagh’s reaction at the time that he saw the other vehicle signalling that he was going to turn right and stop, although it wasn’t an immediate hazard, he should have reacted more quickly than he did, but research shows that drivers do not react to non-immediate hazards quickly.

“It was a momentary lapse in concentration and judgement.

“He has been married for 40 years and now cares for his wife who had a stroke some 20 years ago.

“The impact of this offence has been massive on him.

“I don’t say that in any way to minimise the effect on the families of Thomas Snape or Margaret Dearden because of course it has far reaching consequences for all people.

“Mr Kavanagh is well liked by his family, friends, and neighbours. He is a true family man who is kind and considerate.

“The consequences of his driving on that morning will have ramifications for the rest of his life.

“He is a man of good character, and a man who has morals.

“One would expect that any punishment will pale in significance and comparison to the guilt and effect this has had upon him.

“The ripple effect of his driving for those few moments will remain for everyone, particularly the defendant who will live the rest of his life knowing he is responsible for the death of two other human beings, and that’s a very heavy burden to live with.

“His family say that he is a changed man, he is half the man that he was before this occurred.”

Judge Sara Dodd said: “You did not intend to cause the deaths of two people but did because of a momentary lapse of concentration when driving your articulated vehicle.

“This case is about you but not just about you, it is about Thomas Snape and Margaret Dearden and the impact on their families.

“Having seen the CCTV footage, yours was an instinctive manoeuvre to try and avoid a crash but it put you in the path of Thomas Snape.

“You were only just over the speed limit, and you were not distracted in any way by a mobile phone or any other device.

“You of course are remorseful and yours is a difficult burden to bear.”

Judge Dodd sentence Kavanagh to eight months in prison suspended for 18 months.

She added: “Nothing I can do today undoes what happened in that accident.”

Kavanagh must also complete 15 rehabilitation activity days and 140 hours of unpaid work, and is disqualified from driving for 12 months.