Driver jailed after crash left Rotherfield woman with 'life-changing injuries'

Margaret Pattenden in hospital after the crash

Margaret Pattenden in hospital after the crash

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A man has been jailed for three years after causing a serious crash which left a Rotherfield woman with 'life-changing injuries'.

Peter Jason Harris, 33, from Tunbridge Wells was jailed for three years after he pleaded guilty to causing serious injury by dangerous driving when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court on Monday, October 10.

Margaret Pattenden suffered serious spinal injuries after a crash on the A26 last year

Margaret Pattenden suffered serious spinal injuries after a crash on the A26 last year

Before sentencing the court heard that Harris had been travelling northbound on the A26 at Heron's Ghyll when his silver Volkswagen Golf crossed onto the wrong side of the road while overtaking another vehicle at around 3.35pm on June 25 2015.

While on the wrong side of the road, he struck a red Nissan Note travelling in the opposite direction. The driver – 70-year-old Margaret Pattenden, from Rotherfield – attempted to avoid a head-on collision by mounting the nearside embankment, however the impact forced the rear of her vehicle to hit a row of trees lining the road.

The collision then caused a black Vauxhall Corsa, also travelling southbound, to hit the side of the Nissan. All three cars were written off.

The driver of the Vauxhall – a 67-year-old man from Uckfield – was taken to Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath with minor injuries. Mrs Pattenden suffered serious spinal injuries and was airlifted to St George's Hospital in Tooting for emergency treatment. Police say she now requires a wheelchair as a result of her injuries.

Following sentencing, Mrs Pattenden, a hairdresser who due to retire just eight days after the crash, said: “It’s been a real struggle and life has obviously changed from a very active one to one much more limited while I adjust to my injuries and continue my rehabilitation.

“I do feel very lucky though to have had an amazing team of specialists around me; from the firemen, air ambulance crew and paramedics, to the spinal injury experts and therapists who have helped my recovery so far, and to my case manager who has been able to ensure I’ve had access to everything I need.

“The crash obviously had a huge impact not just on me, but my family and friends too; everything was suddenly put on hold. But I am now just looking forward to moving on with life and enjoying my retirement.”

Harris, of Scotts Way in Tunbridge Wells, was also injured in the crash and was later voluntarily interviewed and summonsed to court in connection with the incident. He was sentenced to three years in jail when he appeared at Lewes Crown Court last week and will be disqualified from driving for three years on his release from prison.

PC Richard Hobbs, of the East Sussex Roads Policing Unit, said: "The victim in this case suffered horrendous injuries; ones that she will have to live with for the rest of her life. Peter Harris drove his vehicle that day in a dangerous manner, he lost control, crossed onto the opposing carriageway and collided with two other vehicles. His actions, and the victim's injuries, were entirely avoidable. Harris was sentenced to three years imprisonment, however the victim will need life-long care and assistance.

"We will continue to relentlessly pursue drivers who drive in a dangerous manner, and I hope that this sentence will act as a deterrent to those who flout the law. I would urge people to report dangerous drivers via Operation Crackdown by visiting www.operationcrackdown.co.uk."

Following the trial, Mrs Pattenden's son Ian Pattenden, from East Grinstead, said: "We'd like to thank the emergency services and the hundreds of people involved in mum's care since 25 June 2015

"It really is a miracle that she didn't die that day and we're all grateful that she has been able to regain some quality of life, although she'll never be the same again and it wasn't the start to her retirement that any of us wanted.

"All that can be said of the crime itself is that double white lines in the middle of main roads mean "do not cross” under any circumstances.

"We hope to move on from this now and concentrate on getting mum finally settled back in her village and help her to have the best retirement possible, under the circumstances.”

Mrs Pattenden's lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, said she was unable to return to her home and business where she had lived and worked for nearly 30 years due to the severity of her injuries.

Irwin Mitchell say it used funds secured from Harris's insurance company to rent a flat to accommodate her and her 24-hour live-in carers, as well as an electric wheelchair and other equipment needed to make life her as comfortable as possible.

Tracey Storey, one of the lawyers who represented Mrs Pattenden, said: “Prior to the accident, Margaret was a highly independent woman; she enjoyed a busy and active life, playing bowls, going on day trips and holidays and looking after the village’s hairstyles since the mid-1980s.

“She had been looking forward to her retirement and spending time with her four-year-old grandson when she suffered these horrific injuries and their life-changing consequences.

“We are now working to secure Margaret an adapted home close to friends and family where she can live as comfortably as possible and continue her rehabilitation.”

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