CORONAVIRUS-induced delirium caused an octogenarian trucker to plough into the back of a Hyundai, a court heard.

Francis Nailor, 82, whose Volvo HGV was seen swerving between the inside lane and the hard shoulder on the M4, carried on after sending the red Hyundai i10 flying into a ditch on March 21 last year.

He later told police he’d continued as he didn’t think he had hit the car, which was stopped in the hard shoulder with its hazards on after a puncture, hard and “no one else would have been injured”. Nailor added he would drive home from the police interview in the same manner.  

Judge Peter Crabtree imposed six months’ imprisonment suspended for a year, noting Nailor’s exceptional driving record, that he had no previous convictions and that he had spent a week in hospital with suspected coronavirus after the crash.

The judge said: “You were driving a large HGV and did so for a number of minutes at the least in circumstances where members of the public and the police were extremely concerned by your driving as you weaved across the hard shoulder.

“It was a prolonged piece of bad driving, in my view, of an HGV which brings with it added responsibilities.”

Judge Crabtree praised the efforts of other drivers, who had stayed behind the lorry with their car hazards on to alert other drivers of the danger ahead.

He picked out one woman, who stopped ahead of the lorry to warn the occupants of the stranded Hyundai to get out the way. Directing that she should be given a High Sheriff’s Award, Judge Crabtree said: “Her presence of mind saved, I suspect, others from very real injury.”

Swindon Crown Court heard Nailor, who had been driving lorries for 60 years, had been over to coronavirus-hit Italy just days before the accident last March. He entered the UK via Dover and drove to Barry, south Wales. He was on his way home to the depot in Hungerford when the crash occurred.

Witnesses described him weaving between lane one and the hard shoulder. They thought he had either fallen asleep or had a puncture.

A number of drivers used their hazard lights to warn other motorists of the dangerous manner of the Volvo’s driving on the M4 eastbound near Junction 17 at around 7pm.

The HGV struck the back of the red Hyundai sending the small car flying into the roadside ditch and causing its two occupants – who were stood outside the car – to jump into the hedge as they feared they would be hit. They suffered minor injuries.

The lorry kept going. It took a police officer, who had illuminated his patrol car’s blue lights and sirens, around three minutes before he was able to attract the driver’s attention and get him to stop just after Junction 15 near Swindon.

When he was stopped, Nailor was described as appearing dazed and confused. A police station doctor ruled out drugs but suggested he could be suffering from a mystery illness.

That illness, defence barrister Anna Chestnutt said, was coronavirus. A week after the crash, he was admitted to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, with suspected Covid-19 and treated on the wards for eight days.

Ms Chestnutt said: “The honest and genuine explanation that Mr Nailor offers for his dangerous driving and his intoxicated demeanour is the early signs of Covid-19-induced delirium.”

She asked the judge to suspend any sentence of imprisonment. Her client was of previous good character, remorseful, had grown-up children and his wife was currently in hospital.

He had passed a work medical a week before the crash and had been signed off to drive. He typically drove 3,000-4,000km a week. 

Nailor, of Small Lane, Stapleton, Bristol, pleaded guilty at the magistrates’ court to dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.

Judge Crabtree banned him from driving for a year. Nailor must complete an extended retest if he wishes to drive again.

He was ordered to pay £250 costs.