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Sheppey: Michael Johnson jailed for killing pensioner

By KentOnline reporter

An unlicensed teenage driver who knocked down a traffic warden just four months before he killed an elderly handyman as he made his getaway with a stolen farm trailer has been locked up for five years and three months.

Michael Johnson, then aged 17, had never taken a driving test and was uninsured when his van struck a gate blocking his path at Capstone Stud Farm in Gillingham in November last year.

Trevor Hadlow, 70, who worked and lived at the stables, was standing by the gate after closing it to try to stop Johnson escaping.

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Trevor Hadlow
Trevor Hadlow

But a court heard the teenager's Peugeot vehicle, which also had no MOT, struck the gate, causing it to swing back and hit the pensioner who then fell to the ground and injured the back of his head.

Mr Hadlow managed to reach his caravan but collapsed and was discovered dead on the floor two days later by the farm owner.

Just four months before Mr Hadlow was killed, Johnson had also knocked down a traffic warden to avoid being slapped with a parking ticket.

David Drury was struck by the teenager's Vauxhall Omega, thrown over the bonnet and onto the ground. But he miraculously suffered only minor injuries.

The shocking incident in Eastchurch High Street, on Sheppey, in July last year was captured on Mr Drury's bodyworn camera.

However, it was not until Johnson was arrested on suspicion of murdering Mr Hadlow that police were also able to identify him as the driver.

Johnson, now 18, was due to stand trial earlier this year accused of murder and theft on November 20 2016, and attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent and dangerous driving on July 8 2016.

But he pleaded guilty to the alternative charge of manslaughter, as well as stealing the trailer, at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent.

A jury subsequently cleared Johnson of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Drury but convicted him of dangerous driving after an hour's deliberation.

They had not been told of his involvement in Mr Hadlow's killing.

However, Judge Philip Statman said there was a 'remarkable similarity' between his driving which killed Mr Hadlow and that involving the traffic warden.

Sentencing Johnson today, he told him his actions were 'utterly reckless' and he drove away on both occasions 'without a care in the world' as to the consequences.

Johnson, of Shannon Place, Warden Road, Eastchurch, was also banned from driving for four years.

He will serve half his sentence less seven months already served on remand.

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson

He drove onto the farm shortly after 7.30pm on November 20 before leaving about a minute later with the trailer attached.

Mr Hadlow spotted the van, which also had no MOT, and closed the gate in a bid to stop its getaway. CCTV showed he had a torchlight with him.

The court heard the vehicle reduced its speed to about 5mph but did not stop and hit the gate before driving off.

Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said: "It must have been obvious to the defendant what had occurred and there was a person on the floor and injured. But he drove off."

By coincidence, the vehicle was found abandoned on Lower Road, Eastchurch, about an hour after Mr Hadlow had been knocked down.

It still had the trailer attached as well as a damaged headlight.

However, it was not until Mr Hadlow's body was found on November 22 that the van was linked to his death and police identified Johnson as the driver through CCTV, automatic number plate recognition cameras and mobile phone data.

He was arrested on November 26 and while in custody, officers realised Johnson matched the description of the man wanted for driving at the traffic warden.

The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court
The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court

A witness appeal, including the release of the camera footage, had been made just two days before Johnson's arrest.

The court heard Mr Drury and a colleague were about to hand Johnson a ticket for parking on a kerb on zigzag lines by a pedestrian crossing when he drove off, hitting the warden.

Mr Drury could be heard on the footage shouting 'Ouch, Jesus wept' before calmly radioing: "Just been run over."

He suffered minor injuries to his shoulders and neck and was able to get straight back to his feet.

The car was later found abandoned in a field.

Johnson told the jury he had not driven deliberately at the traffic warden.

Michael Ivers QC, defending, said Johnson panicked as he drove off the farm but the consequences were 'unexpected and unintended'.

"He knows he has caused untold pain to Mr Hadlow's family in the course of this incredibly stupid act," he added.

Mr Hadlow had lived on site and helped to look after the horses for several years, and was described as well-loved, hardworking and always willing to help friends and neighbours.

Judge Statman said he had behaved in a brave and honourable way in trying to stop Johnson's escape.

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