Virgin bank boss on trial accused of death by dangerous driving on A1

Gordon Soutar, operations director with Virgin Money, claims he was suffering from sleep apnea and must have lost consciousness at the wheel

Gordon Soutar leaving Newcastle Crown court
Gordon Soutar leaving Newcastle Crown court

A bank boss who allegedly killed a van driver when his car drifted into oncoming traffic on the A1 claims he was unconscious through undiagnosed sleep apnoea at the time.

Gordon Soutar, operations director at Virgin Money, in Gosforth, Newcastle, is accused of causing the death of Nigel Sowerby by dangerous driving.

Prosecutors claim he had been driving at speed in his BMW on his way to work from his home in Scotland one Monday morning.

It is alleged Soutar became distracted at the wheel near Felton, in Northumberland, and his car drifted into oncoming north bound traffic on the single carriageway stretch.

One vehicle had to swerve onto a verge, he struck a glancing blow to another then hit Mr Sowerby’s VW Caddy van almost head on, killing him and seriously injuring his passenger.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the bank boss accepts his car caused the fatal collision but claims he cannot remember anything about the journey south of Berwick.

Jurors were told that after the accident Soutar went for tests and was found to have obstructive sleep apnoea.

He denies causing death by dangerous driving on the grounds he must have been unconscious during a “micro-sleep” associated with the disorder.

However prosecutors say Soutar had been “hurrying along” the motorway and doing overtaking manoeuvres and claim the real cause of the crash was him becoming distracted. Julian Smith, prosecuting, told jurors: “This is not a man on autopilot, on the contrary it’s clear he was hurrying along the A1 and in the minutes before this accident he had overtaken a number of cars, something in the region of five.

“The Crown say that manoeuvre was clearly considered and was done at speed in the face of oncoming traffic, which does not fit in with a micro sleep, which is akin to drowsiness.

“We say this is more in keeping with him being distracted in some way, such that his driving fell far below the standard of a careful and competent driver.

“The issue for you will be whether you think it might be the case he was unconscious at the time of the collision. Not that he was inattentive as a result of being sleepy or had reduced control because of the repetitive act of driving, but that he was not on control because he was unconscious as a result of a condition of which he was unaware.”

Soutar, 50, was doing his usual Monday morning commute from his home in Scotland to Virgin Money’s office in Gosforth, on November 12 2012.

He set off around 5.40am in his white, personalised registration-plated BMW, heading south down the A1.

Just before the accident, which happened at 7.37am, witnesses said Souter was driving fast and overtook cars on a single carriageway stretch.

As he approached a bridge over the River Coquet Mr Sowerby’s van was one of a string of vehicles heading the opposite way.

Drivers watched in horror as Soutar’s car, which had pulled back onto the correct side of the road after the overtaking manoeuvre, started drifting back into the oncoming traffic.

A van driver had to pull onto a grass verge to avoid a collision but a Citroen behind him was struck a glancing blow which burst his tyre and set airbags off.

The BMW then careered into the front of Mr Sowerby’s VW Caddy, causing a “catastrophic impact”, killing the 37-year-old, who was from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire.

Soutar, of Cairneyhill, Dunfermline, denies causing death by dangerous driving and the alternative of causing death by careless driving. The trial continues.

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