Saturday, June 09, 2007

Rally driver sentenced for deaths

A Cheshire businessman has been given a two-year suspended sentence over the deaths of an elderly couple in a car crash during the Gumball Rally.

Nicholas Morley, 30, from Bowdon, was convicted of "endangering traffic, leading to death" by a court in Struga, Macedonia, his lawyers said.

The Porsche he was driving collided with another car containing Vladimir Chepunjoski and his wife Margarita.

Morley was on remand in prison and is now set to return to the UK.

Morley's family issued a statement through their public relations firm saying they were "delighted and relieved" that he was on his way home.

'Overcrowded' prison

"We have maintained all along that Nick was involved in a tragic accident and entirely innocent of the charges brought against him," it said.

"While we are disappointed that the court has not recognised Nick's innocence, our sole focus today is to get Nick home and reunited with his family.

"In the course of time, we will consider all our options, including an appeal of this decision so we can clear Nick's name."

Morley was being held in Ohrid Prison in Macedonia, which has been criticised as "overcrowded and cramped" by watchdogs.

His co-driver Matthew McConville, from Prestwich, Greater Manchester, was in the car when it was crashed but was allowed to return to the UK.

During Morley's trial, the judge refused to accept expert witness testimony from the UK defence team.

Rally abandoned

Two witnesses claimed Morley was driving at no more than 47mph, rather than the 100mph claimed by the prosecution.

On the first day of the trial, the family of the couple killed in the crash told the court they forgave him and wanted him released, dropping their claim for £100,000 in damages.

The incident happened near Struga on 4 May, close to the Macedonian border, when the Porsche 911 collided with a Volkswagen Golf.

The 2007 Gumball Rally was from London to Istanbul and back, but was cancelled after the crash.

It is an annual 3,000-mile Europe-wide tour which attracts the rich and famous.

Hundreds of businessmen, playboys and celebrities pay £28,000 to drive supercars such as Ferraris, Porsches and Lamborghinis.

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