A visibly-distressed farmer told a jury he was “heartbroken” at causing the death of a mother when his tractor collided with her car in Castle Acre.
Henry Bett, now 28, of Hall Lane, Thornham, said he admitted it was “my fault” that Rebecca Brown, 43, died.
Asked by his barrister William Harbage QC: “How do you feel about that?”, Bett, obviously distressed and barely able to speak, replied: “Heartbroken.”
Bett, known as Harry, denies causing her death by dangerous driving but has pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.
Mrs Brown, a mother of four and a dinner lady at Castle Acre Primary, died in the 3.00pm crash on 4 December 2013 on a long bend in West Acre Road. The court has been told that she had slowed to 10mph or less.
Her 17-year-old son Thomas was a front seat passenger in the family’s Fiat Ulysse people carrier when the front offside wheel of Bett’s Fendt 933 tractor mounted the bonnet on the driver’s side. He saw the tractor approaching “in the middle of the road”, the jury heard.
The prosecution allege that Bett, then 25, was driving faster than the 20mph allowed by a tractor on a public road, that he was over the centre of the carriageway and had 100 metres visibility.
Giving evidence at his trial at Cambridge Crown Court, Bett accepted that what he told police at the time and in a later interview 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, was not true.
Asked 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.”
He said he accepted Thomas Brown’s and the accident investigators’ evidence that he was not as far over as he should have been.
“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 he denied his driving was dangerous claiming that was happened was the result of a momentary error.
It has not been possible to calculate the tractor’s speed from physical evidence. The prosecution expert has said it is likely Bett was travelling at closer to 40mph than 20mph. The defence expert concludes it was more likely between 20 and 30mph at impact.
The defence claim the German-made tractor was going 35-37kph, equivalent to 22-25mph.
The tractor continued for 43m after the collision before it came to a halt. There was no evidence to say it braked before impact or braked to any significant extent afterwards, the court heard.
Bett, a director of the family’s arable farming company Thornham Farms Ltd, was returning home from 20 miles away after a day’s working on the Narford Estate. He said he was very experienced driving that tractor, which weighs 15.3 tonnes gross and is just under three metres wide.
He said he had about two seconds to react when he saw the Fiat approaching around the bend. At the time he believed he was over on his own side of the road.
“I put the brakes on. I wasn’t able to avoid the collision, I tried,” he told the jury.
He said he couldn’t say why he wasn’t able to steer past it and continued : “I got thrown into the steering wheel, I came back, hit the edge of the seat and fell into the foot well. I pushed the brake pedal with my hand.”
After it came to a halt, he climbed out and walked back.
“I was in shock. I was hoping everyone was all right. I looked into the car and saw Mrs Brown very badly injured,” he said.
“I was hoping that she was going to be okay, praying.”
The jury of seven women and five men have heard that a very distressed Bett told a motorist who stopped, “it’s murder, it’s murder’.
Teenager Thomas Brown, another motorist and Bett all helped perform cardiac pulmonary resuscitation compressions on Mrs Brown until the emergency services arrived. However, she was certified dead at the scene. She died from head injury.
The trial continues.