Lorry driver jailed for three years after causing four deaths in M25 crash

A lorry driver has been jailed for three years after causing a motorway crash that killed four minibus passengers.

Dexter Augustus, 60, Jennifer Smith, 59, Abigael Muamba, 31, and Lisa Gardiner, 44, were killed after Ethan Burdett, 67, crashed his lorry into the back of the minibus between junctions 27 and 26 of the M25 near Waltham Abbey, Essex, on August 23 2021.

Burdett, of Ipswich, admitted four counts of causing death by careless driving at a previous court appearance.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that he was driving a truckload of flooring in the direction of Waltham Abbey from the A12 at Brentwood.

Gregory Wedge, prosecuting, said the minibus, driven by Jamal Hussain, was travelling just ahead of Burdett’s lorry.

It was carrying 11 passengers from homeless hostel Branches, who had been on a day trip to Southend-on-Sea.

Composite photo of four handout images of  Lisa Gardiner, Dexter Augustus, Jennifer Smith, and Abigael Muamba
Lisa Gardiner, Dexter Augustus, both top, Jennifer Smith, bottom left, and Abigael Muamba were all killed in the crash (Essex Police/PA)

The passengers included nine residents and two members of staff.

Travelling in the same direction just ahead of the minibus was a silver Ford Mondeo driven by Leslie Woodward, who was travelling from Basildon to visit family in Loughton.

The court heard he brought his car to a stop due to queuing traffic, and the minibus stopped behind him.

Burdett failed to stop in time, crashing into the back of the minibus and causing it to hit the rear of the Mondeo.

The minibus was thrown forward, toppling over sideways and coming to a stop with its wheels off the ground, and the Mondeo was sent spinning 180 degrees, with its bonnet left underneath the roof of the minibus.

Mr Augustus, Ms Smith, and Ms Muamba were declared dead at the scene. Ms Gardiner suffered serious head injuries and died six days later.

Mr Hussain and three of his passengers, Peter Salmon, Mansour Balla and Sonnie Hutchins, were seriously injured.

Judge Christopher Morgan also disqualified Burdett from driving for 54 months, adding that he must do an extended driving test once his ban ends.

He said the crash will remain with the victims and their families “for the rest of their lives”.

Burdett wept in the dock as the victim impact statements were read out, but was expressionless as he was sentenced.

Mr Hutchins, who suffered injuries to his ribs, shoulder and neck, told the court in a victim impact statement that the incident has left him with nightmares.

“I stayed in the minibus to help Jennifer Smith, a member of Branches staff, by brushing broken glass off her face and talking to her while waiting for medical assistance to arrive,” he said.

“All of this has impacted my sleep. I wake up from nightmares about the accident, especially when I am reminded of the accident.”

Ms Muamba’s mother Berthine said her family were in “total shock” when the police told them of their daughter’s death.

“We relied on Abigael for many things because in times of our weakness, she could support us either spiritually, emotionally, physically or financially,” she said.

“Her death shook the world and we are completely lost without her.”

Burdett’s phone was seized by police but showed no activity immediately before or at the time of the collision. Toxicology tests found no alcohol or drugs in his system.