Hit And Run Driver Jailed

A hit-and-run driver was jailed for 11 years today for mowing down and killing an elderly woman following a high-speed police chase.

Joanna Hakesley, 70, suffered serious head injuries after she was struck by a stolen red Mazda in Church Road, Copthorne, near Crawley, West Sussex, on October 28 last year and died in hospital hours later.

Driver Leonard Jones, 26, fled the scene before dumping the vehicle in an underpass beneath Gatwick Airport and escaping on foot.

Watch dramatic CCTV video

He was arrested by police a few days later and again tried to flee, before eventually being captured after officers subdued him with a Taser gun.

He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the day of his trial at Lewes Crown Court last month having admitted dangerous driving at an earlier hearing.

Describing his actions as ``horrendous'', a judge said he had placed other innocent lives at risk through his reckless driving.

Married father Jones, dressed in a white shirt and a tie, showed no emotion as Judge Richard Brown jailed him and banned him from driving for eight years.

Judge Brown told him: "This was a horrendous set of offences, to a large extent captured on police video. The horrific death of Ms Hakesley was preceded by and followed thereafter by dangerous acts of driving.

"In your selfish attempt to avoid capture, you put innocent lives at risk and in that process killed Ms Hakesley who was quite properly going about her business.

"Having mowed her down, you continued to drive dangerously in your attempt to avoid capture and during that period you narrowly avoided missing innocent pedestrians, including one who, I'm led to believe, had a zimmer frame.''

The car had been stolen from outside a house in Woodside Way, Salfords, near Redhill, Surrey, just before 11pm the previous Saturday.

Despite being recorded at a number of petrol stations around the Crawley area over the next few days, it was not until the following Thursday - the day of the collision - that the car was spotted by an off-duty police officer.

By then a warrant had been put out for Jones's arrest as he had failed to attend court for an unrelated incident.

After recognising the vehicle at a Texaco garage in Copthorne Road to the east of Crawley, the officer began to follow it after reporting it to police headquarters.

The court was last month shown dramatic footage taken from two other police cars and a police helicopter which were then tasked to pursue the Mazda, as it sped up once Jones realised he was being followed.

The five-door saloon could be seen swerving across lanes, overtaking other cars on blind bends, and breaking violently to avoid collisions as Jones tried to lose his pursuers at speeds of up to 100mph.

The two police cars, both using sirens and flashing lights, were then ordered to stop chasing him due to fears his reckless driving would endanger other road users.

However, it appeared he was unaware the helicopter was still monitoring him, meaning officers were able to liaise with the police cars so they could drive to where he had stopped the vehicle.

In the footage taken from the air, Miss Hakesley could be seen to cross the quiet tree-lined street on to the pavement on the other side, while the Mazda was paused in a side road facing towards her.

As the Mazda pulled forwards slowly, the police car drove towards it in an attempt to block its path, but the car then mounted the kerb and drove along the pavement to avoid it.

As Jones accelerated around the corner he struck Miss Hakesley, causing her body to be thrown up high into the air.

Miss Hakesley, who lived nearby in Bramble Close, was airlifted to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, but she died at around 4.30pm that day.

Jones sped off from the crash scene, narrowly avoiding other pedestrians including a man with a zimmer frame.

Witnesses who saw the Mazda after the collision described him as driving like a "cannonball'' and ``a complete lunatic'' and expressed fears that he was going to kill someone - little realising that he already had.

When he was arrested three days later on October 31, Jones, of Rhodes Way, Furness Green, Crawley, refused to answer questions by police.

In mitigation today, Elizabeth Marsh, defending, said he fully accepted that he must be punished by a custodial sentence for his actions.

She said: ``He is a man who fully accepts what he has done and cannot put himself in the shoes of the family.''

The court heard that Jones, who comes from a travelling background, had a "significant history'' of offending including a number of driving offences.

Ms Marsh said it was after his father moved the family into a more stable home that Jones's offending began, saying he failed to adjust to his new home life.

Following sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles, of Sussex Police's major crime branch, said: "Jones has a dreadful and violent criminal history.

"His determination to avoid capture is at the heart of this case and he did everything possible to evade arrest. What Jones did that day was to disgracefully and criminally disregard the safety of the road users of Sussex.

"He has shown no remorse or regret, nor has he offered any explanation to Joanna's family for what he did.''

He paid tribute to her family for their ``depth of dignity'', as well as to the Crown Prosecution Service and leading counsel Richard Barton and officers who worked on the case.

"This has truly been a team effort and they have been a privilege to work with,'' he said.