The parents of a Luton woman who died in a road collision in Northern Ireland have told the young farmer responsible to “live your life to the full”.
David Hulford’s daughter Michelle Antoinette Hulford, 21, was a passenger in a car which was struck by a Land Rover and large trailer being driven by 17-year-old Stephen Hamilton near Doagh, Co Antrim.
In an emotional exchange at an inquest in Belfast on Monday, Mr Hulford said his family did not want anyone “living with the burden” of the tragedy.
The incident took place on the Ballymena Road on the morning of July 9, 2012.
Michelle, who lived in Stopsley, had just flown into Northern Ireland a short time earlier and had been collected at the airport by friends in an Audi A6.
Four other people in the Audi, including a 14-month-old child, were injured.
Coroner Joe McCrisken heard that Mr Hamilton was towing a trailer for only the second time, having passed his driving test for trailers just days before, when he lost control and veered into oncoming traffic.
Mr Hamilton told the coroner his inexperience led to him steering slightly left – unnecessarily – to give an oncoming van more room on the road. As he corrected his position on the road, the trailer began to “snake” in a way he had never encountered.
A combination of the trailer weaving unexpectedly and Mr Hamilton’s sharp braking caused his Land Rover to veer into the path of the Audi being driven by Mrs Maureen Grant.
“I wasn’t even aware what to do,” he said.
Mr Hamilton, from the Deerpark Road in Doagh, said he was well within the 60mph speed limit when he began to lose control.
“Before the trailer started snaking I was doing 45 miles per hour,” he added.
Ms Hulford’s parents, David and Jackie, were taking part in the proceedings via video link from Bedfordshire.
His voice noticeably shaking with emotion, Mr Hamilton addressed the Hulfords directly and said: “I would like to say just how sorry I am. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of everyone involved.”
Mr Hulford immediately replied: “My heart goes out to you.”
When invited by the coroner to explain what kind of young woman his daughter was, Mr Hulford said: “She was a person who loved life and loved God.”
He said: “She would have been very forgiving towards Stephen. He’s got a hard thing to live with and I know that Michelle would have been very gracious in that respect. However this works out, we will one day catch up.”
Mr Hulford his family did not want anybody “to be living with the burden” of the tragedy.
Addressing Mr Hamilton directly via the video link, Mr Hulford said: “Stephen, live your life to the full.”
Explaining her demeanour as she left home a few hours earlier, Mr Hulford added: “She said ‘I love you Dad’ and I said ‘I love you’ as well.”
At the time of her death, Mr Hulford described his daughter as someone who was “very passionate in her Christian faith,” who had spent her gap year working with orphans in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
She was studying dance and creative writing and had ambitions to teach children in Africa and to write children’s books.
Forensic accident investigator Damian Coll said he concluded that rear seat passenger Ms Hulford was not wearing her seatbelt when the collision occurred. She suffered severe head injuries.
Ms Hulford’s parents said they found it “inconceivable” that her daughter would not have been wearing her seatbelt as “she was paranoid about safety,” and said it was possible she may have mistakenly believed it to have been securely fastened. The coroner said “seatbelts save lives” as he issued a reminder about the necessity to wear them at all times while travelling in vehicles.
Mr Hamilton had been charged with causing the death of Michelle Hulford, and grievous bodily injury to Maureen Grant and Rosemary Sands, by driving carelessly.
However, at a court hearing in December 2015, a prosecuting lawyer said the case had been reviewed and the charges dropped.
Previous courts have heard that two senior prosecuting lawyers had opted not to prosecute on the grounds that Mr Hamilton’s driving “did not fall below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver”.