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Hit-and-run driver from East Malling jailed after being captured on CCTV 'inhaling laughing gas' moments before killing father-of-two

A driver who killed a father-of-two in a hit-and-run was captured sucking on a balloon believed to be filled with laughing gas just minutes before the crash.

Gary Haffenden from East Malling had been driving at 67mph in a 40mph zone when he mowed down Syed Zaidi, a 35-year-old restaurateur, in front of his wife and children in Surrey.

CCTV shows Haffenden sucking on a balloon

The 21-year-old yard worker fled the scene and later handed himself into police, claiming a pedestrian 'stumbled out' in front of his car.

The fatal smash happened on March 17, 2019, while Haffenden was on bail for another driving offence on the Isle of Sheppey which left one man with life-changing injuries.

On Tuesday a video captured on CCTV before the crash which killed Mr Zaidi was shown to a judge at Reading Crown Court who jailed the 21-year-old for causing death by dangerous driving and a second offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving - the one he was on bail for.

The video shows Haffenden driving through the forecourt of a petrol station with a pink latex balloon blown up and in his mouth - just 10 minutes before the tragedy.

Sitting in the dock, Haffenden cried as he heard how the 35-year-old fatal victim had been out with his one-year-old son, daughter aged three years and his wife at Virginia Water, Surrey on the day of his death.

Gary Haffenden from East Malling
Gary Haffenden from East Malling

Prosecuting counsel Alan Blake said: "Syed Zaidi worked as a restaurant owner. He had received a call to say that a delivery driver was having problems with their car. He decided to do the delivery himself before going home.

"He was delivering the last lot of food to a home in Wraysbury Road, Virginia Water. His wife saw him look right on the road before she saw a flash and her husband disappeared from her view. She realised he had been propelled some distance."

To Judge Dugdale's horror, then 19-year-old Haffenden did not stop to help the man he had run down, instead fleeing the scene before abandoning the car 10 minutes later in Egham.

After a few hours, he surrendered himself at Staines police station, claiming a pedestrian had "stumbled out" in front of his car and that he did try to brake but it was too late.

Having discovered the abandoned Ford Ranger truck officers found 17 empty nitrous oxide canisters used for "laughing gas" scattered on the floor of it.

Syed Zaidi was killed in March 2019. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures
Syed Zaidi was killed in March 2019. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures

The court heard that this tragedy was just nine months after causing building surveyor Graham Nichols life-changing injuries in a hit-and-run collision on Sheppey.

On August 16, 2018 he had fallen asleep behind the wheel of his Toyota Hilux when he hit Mr Nichols, a surveyor.

It happened around 3.30am. Haffenden, then 18, asked his victim - who was travelling home from a night shift - if he was okay before sprinting away from the scene.

Mr Nichols, who could see bone protruding from his left hand, had to be cut out of his Skoda Fabia car before paramedics rushed him to Kings College Hospital in London.

Judge Paul Dugdale heard that the victim was detained at the specialist hospital for five weeks - having broken both legs and knees - and underwent multiple painful surgeries.

Double hit-and-run driver Gary Haffenden. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures
Double hit-and-run driver Gary Haffenden. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures

Mr Nichols - who was only three years away from retirement - was forced to take early leave and he can now only walk "up to half a mile" with a crutch as an aid.

Following the hit-and-run, Haffenden handed himself in to police the next morning who found canisters of nitrous oxide scattered around the floor of his truck and a packet of yellow latex balloons, prosecutor Alan Blake told the court.

Haffenden admitted causing death by careless driving, causing death while uninsured and failing to stop, as well as admitting to the previous offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Widow Afsheen Shiraz took to the witness box to express her heartbreak.

She said: "After this incident I have lost myself, I have to take care of my children alone, I am totally incomplete without him. My heart weeps every night.

Gary Haffenden. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures
Gary Haffenden. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures

"When my children ask when their papa is coming back I am left speechless. My daughter said she wanted to become a doctor so she can heal her father from the accident.

"We were all sitting in the car, it was a family day out at Virginia Water, everything happened in front of us. We were looking to our husband delivering food, after that he was coming back - my children saw it all. We will never forget that moment.

"I saw my husband upside down, blood was coming out of his mouth, I cannot explain - it was horrible, the worst day of my life. It all happened in the blink of an eye.

"Without my loving, caring husband, my children do not have their father to protect them. When I see a couple smiling I look to the sky and ask God to support them because I know the pain I am suffering. My life is completely meaningless."

Judge Dugdale heard how Haffenden was driving at 67mph on a 40mph road just 100 metres before he collided with the father-of-two.

Double hit and run driver Gary Haffenden from East Malling has been jailed. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures
Double hit and run driver Gary Haffenden from East Malling has been jailed. Picture: Hyde News & Pictures

After a post-mortem examination, a pathologist confirmed that the victim had died from chest and abdominal injuries, as well as traumatic injuries of the aorta after the fatal crash.

Defence counsel Jonas Milner explained that the defendant's "close knit family" who had never been in trouble with the law, were left devastated.

His father sat in the public gallery on Tuesday while his heartbroken mother sat outside, unable to bring herself to listen to the atrocities.

"There is not a day that goes by when Gary Haffenden doesn’t feel remorseful for what he has done, he will remain remorseful for the rest of his life. At the time of the accident he accepts he was driving too fast.

"He recently married his long term girlfriend. He accepts that his life will be on pause as he serves his punishment but there is hope for him in the future."

Judge Dugdale recollected the facts of the double hit-and-run. He said: "The first collision in the Isle of Sheppey caused life-changing injuries to Graham Nichols, who has to get through the rest of his life needing a crutch to walk.

"The second collision killed Syed Zaidi. Nothing I can do will help his wife, his father in Pakistan and, worst of all, his children who will grow up without knowing their father at all. There are no winners in this.

"You were on bail for having crashed a pick-up truck into a man who spent five weeks in hospital. One would have thought you were doing your best to keep out of the driver's seat, let alone a pick-up truck when you are out in a jolly with your mates, taking gas from balloons which you did that day.

"We have seen pictures of you with a balloon in your mouth, you have told us that balloon was full of air. I sentence you on the basis that you were not under the influence when this accident took place."

Haffenden, aged 21 years, of Wateringbury Road, East Malling was jailed for three years and was disqualified from driving for four-and-a-half years.

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Malling

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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