Thornham farmer convicted of causing death by dangerous driving

Henry Bett, son of Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett, pictured at Huntingdon Crown Court where he is standing trial for causing death by dangerous driving. July 6 2015.  NEWSTEAM/SWNS
Henry Bett, son of Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett, pictured at Huntingdon Crown Court where he is standing trial for causing death by dangerous driving. July 6 2015. NEWSTEAM/SWNS

A farmer, whose father was Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner at the time his tractor crashed into a car killing the woman driver has been convicted of causing death by dangerous driving for a second time.

Henry Bett, now 28, spent 13 months in jail before the Court of Appeal last September overturned his conviction for causing the death of Rebecca Brown, 43, by driving dangerously and released him.

However, the court ordered a re-trial and today, a jury at Cambridge Crown Court convicted him of the same offence for a second time.

On his first conviction at Peterborough Crown Court in July 2015 Bett received a three and a half year prison sentence and a five-year driving ban. Now, after today’s decision he must wait to hear his fate. Judge Sean Enright has adjourned sentencing until later and continued his bail.

Bett, a director of the family’s arable farming business Thornham Farms Ltd, had admitted a lesser charge of causing the mother-of-four’s death by careless driving on West Acre Road, Castle Acre, about 3pm on 4 December 2013.

The second jury was not told of the previous trial, conviction or appeal.

Judge Enright had made an order banning the press from reporting those matters, which also covered any mention of Bett’s father Stephen until the end of this latest trial.

Farmer Stephen Bett, a former Conservative chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, was elected the county’s first ever police and crime commissioner in November 2012 as an independent. He was in that role until May 2016.

When the Appeal Court ordered a fresh trial it imposed an order prohibiting publicity about the reason for the conviction being overturned.

It was revealed at the start of this hearing, in the absence of the jury, that the conviction was quashed on the ground that evidence had been wrongly admitted that Bett had taken cocaine several days before the collision.

The earlier trial heard he might have been suffering the effects of “a come down” from taking the drug.

Mrs Brown, of Castle Acre, a dinner lady at the local primary school, had pulled into the verge and slowed to 10mph or less to allow the large German made Fendt 933 tractor to pass when they met on a long bend on the country road. Her 17-year-old son Thomas was in the front passenger seat.

There was room for both vehicles to pass each safely, the court heard.

In a near head-on collision, the front offside wheel of the tractor climbed up the bonnet and crushed the driver’s side.

Her distraught son attempted CPR compressions, as did another motorist and Bett. She suffered head injury and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Prosecutor Simon Wilshire alleged that Bett’s standard of driving fell far below that of a careful and competent driver.

He claimed he failed to see the red Fiat people carrier despite visibility of 100m; that Bett was over the centre of the carriageway; and that he was driving faster than the 20mph permitted by tractors on public roads.

Bett, often visibly distressed in the witness box, said he was “heartbroken” at Mrs Brown’s death and told the Cambridge jury it was “my fault”. He said he was driving at 33-35kph – equivalent to 22-25mph.

He said at the time he had believed, that he was “hugging the verge” on his side and that the Fiat driver was going fast and was in the middle of the road.

Asked by his defence counsel William Harbage QC why he had said that, the defendant, trying to hold back tears, replied: “I was in shock and in denial. I was in denial that my actions had taken somebody’s life.”

“I accept that I allowed the tractor to stray further out into the road than it should have been.”

He added that he had pleaded guilty to causing Mrs Brown’s death by careless driving “because I caused the accident by being across the road” but denied his driving was dangerous.

His lawyer told the court it was a momentary error.