Driver’s ‘three-year hell’

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A Mullavilly lorry driver, who was cleared of causing the death of a Belfast cyclist, has spoken of the “three years of hell” he suffered before the case was finally dropped.

James Thompson (52) of Rose Cottages in the village, who faced charges of causing the death by driving without due care and attention, said the PSNI and the PPS pressed the case over-zealously until it was finally dropped at the Crown Court on Monday.

Michael Caulfield (56) died after his cycle became tangled up with Mr Thompson’s lorry at 6.30am on Friday, April 15, 2011. And the sight of him lying dead, Mr Thompson said, “still haunts me”.

But the Mullavilly man stuck rigidly to his evidence that he was in no way to blame, and witnesses came forward within days to support the man who drives an 18-tonne milk delivery lorry.

“Of course, I expected a thorough investigation,” he said. “The evidence of the witnesses concurred with mine, Ireland’s top expert on reconstructing accident scenes - plus CCTV cameras - all backed me up. But the prosecution was, in my view, over-zealous in its pursuit. A few weeks or months would have been fair enough, but I’ve faced three years of absolute trauma.

“It was a number of weeks before I felt able to get behind the wheel again, but I have a living to make. It shattered my extended family, with my mother dying a year after this started without knowing the outcome. She was 89 and in the early stages of dementia, and I’m convinced this hastened her end.

“In deference to the deceased’s family, I don’t want to repeat the evidence in the media, but my side of the story was totally accurate and I shouldn’t have had to suffer this trauma, with the case having been postponed three times, until the truth triumphed and I was able to walk free. You can’t imagine the relief.”

Mrs Bernadette Caulfield, the mother-of-four widow of the cyclist, has gone on record stating that she had been left feeling that nobody cared. But Mr Thompson said he cared deeply and actually wrote to her, stressing that the accident had caused him deep trauma.

“I feel deeply for her,” he said. “Two families - hers and my extended family - have been profoundly affected.”