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6 May 2011, 14:08
A fireman responding to a 999 call, who went through a red traffic light and struck a car in which the driver died, has been cleared of causing death by dangerous driving.
Robert Hulatt was also found not guilty of the alternative charge of causing death by careless driving.
The 28 year old firefighter told the jury that the accident had been his 'worst nightmare'.
Since the crash on Sept 11 2009 he has continued working in the fire service but not as a driver. He originally stood trial in December last year but the jury were unable to reach verdicts.
Prosecutor Wayne Cleaver alleged at Luton Crown Court that Hulatt crossed the red traffic light at the cross roads when he knew the view of traffic coming from his right was restricted.
He was in the lead vehicle of two appliances responding to a high priority call of a house fire with people inside.
It was during the morning rush hour on Sept 11 2009 and just fifteen minutes before his 15 hour night shift was due to end.
As the 13 ton engine with 1800 litres of water on board was heading out of Luton town centre, the radio operator informed him that the location he had been given was wrong and that it was now reported to be a mobile home on fire, which Hulatt said made it even more serious.
All the sirens and flashing lights were in use and as he approached the red traffic light at Chapel Street and Windsor Street, Luton, and the bull horn was also sounded. A fire appliance was brought to the rear of the court for the jury to hear the sequence of sounds it made on the day.
A taxi on the left stopped for him, but a silver Astra emerged from the right and was struck side on by the fire engine. It rolled over and crashed into the wall of a disused pub, said Mr. Cleaver. The engine's speed was estimated at 28 mph at the time of impact.
The driver 52 year old Abdul Lateef Sheikh, from Marlow Avenue, Luton was cut free from the car but did from his multiple injuries 25 days later on Oct 6 2009. His wife, Saeeda, 48 and three of his daughters Anam, 22, Iqra,13, and Zahra, 16, were all injured in the crash. He had been driving the younger girls to school.
His eldest daughter Sadiyah, 24 was in Pakistan at the time. He also had another daughter Sidra, 20. After the case they issued a statement describing him as an 'unforgettable man'. They said: "He was a lively, friendly and warm human being, caring and charming, who would always put a smile on everyone's face."
Hulatt, wearing his red fireman's shirt and carrying his black hat, went into the witness box to give his account.
He said he had been driving Luton Bravo and would normally have followed the other appliance Luton Alpha but they were slightly delayed so he left first. He knew the route up Farley Hill well, and also knew that the right hand corner with Windsor Street was a blind spot until you were very close to the junction.
His Watch Commander and Crew Commander were in the vehicle with him along with two other firefighters. He said: "It was rush hour and it was a nightmare getting through the traffic. The first thing I saw in Chapel Street was the red light. I clocked it straight away."
He said he decelerated which meant the brakes automatically engaged.
"I pressed the horn to change the sound of the sirens and the commander had his hand on the bull horn. I saw the taxi had stopped to my left and my view to the right was opening up all the time but it is not ideal. I knew I had to make a decision. I did not see anything coming when suddenly a silver flash came across the front of the engine. We just did not know what had hit us. I carried on a bit when it dawned on me it could have been a car. I ran back down the road and saw the car on its side and a man in it, and it hit me what had happened. There were people trapped it was just terrible, awful. I joined the fire service to help people and this is my worst nightmare that could ever happen. I am a professional driver and a professional fireman and I know the responsibilities of driving a fire engine and have always known that. For something like this to happen is such a huge shock."
The fireman, who has had trauma counselling since the crash was choking back tears as he spoke. He said: "I cannot imagine how the family feel. I Know I think about it every morning when I wake and every night I go to bed. It is with me all the time."
Hulatt, of Browning Close, Bromham, Beds became a full time fireman in 2003 and qualified to drive an engine on emergencies in Mar 2009.
He did not make any comment on leaving court.