Lorry driver who downed bottle of whisky before journey of destruction gets suspended jail sentence

The badly damaged lorry         Credit: Chris Lacey

An intoxicated lorry driver who hit the railway bridge by Bitton Station and then continued his journey for almost five minutes, colliding with about 20 vehicles and causing extensive damage, has today been handed a suspended jail sentence.

Bristol Crown Court heard that Matthew Nolder, 51, from Yate, had drunk a 35cl bottle of whisky and was “oblivious” to the trail of debris he was causing, ignoring desperate attempts by other motorists to get him to stop,

Video footage from the late afternoon of 6th December 2022 was played to the court including of the moment when the truck hit the bridge which was too low for his vehicle. Nolder could be seen being propelled upwards by the impact.

He eventually brought his badly damaged vehicle to a halt in Oldland Common High Street. When police arrived, they detected alcohol on his breath. A test revealed 80 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. The legal limit is 35.

Nolder, who worked at the time of the offence for Keynsham haulage firm I J McGill and had no previous convictions, appeared at Bristol Crown Court today for sentencing, having pleaded guilty before magistrates last month to one count of dangerous driving.

Today the Crown Prosecution Service stated that it had been 10 days too late for a charge of drink-driving to be brought against Nolder, even though he had admitted to the police that he had downed the bottle of whisky before driving; company policy at I J McGill was that drivers must sign to say they are fit to drive beforehand, and he had signed to say he was.

The prosecutor said that the case was aggravated by the fact that Nolder was driving the lorry for commercial purposes and vulnerable road users had been put at risk, including children in cars that he had collided with.

The court heard that I J McGill’s insurers had dealt with the complaints of damage caused by Nolder.

Bristol Crown Court

Nolder’s defence counsel said that he was aware of the seriousness of the offence which was a “one-off isolated incident”. He was “deeply remorseful and ashamed” and she urged that a custodial sentence be suspended as he has the prospect of rehabilitation, has been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since January, found temporary work, and has the motivation to get his life back on track. She also said his family are reliant on his income.

Passing sentence, Judge Macmillan, who had read a pre-sentencing report, told Nolder he had caused a great deal of distress and fear. He had ignored warnings of other road users about the carnage he was causing for almost five minutes.

She noted that after 14 years of abstinence he had relapsed during the pandemic and that the incident had cost him highly in terms of relationships.

She said he had shown “clear, genuine remorse and shame” and had taken steps to address his relapse.

She handed down a 14-month jail term, suspended for two years, saying immediate custody would have a significant impact on his family. She also said he must complete 200 hours of unpaid work over 12 months and said there would be a 120-day alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement. Nolder must also undergo a rehabilitation activity of up to five days.

At last month’s hearing at Bristol Magistrates’ Court he  was disqualified from driving with immediate effect. Today Judge Macmillan said the ban will  be for 24 months and Nolder will have to take an extended driving re-test before being allowed back on the road.

The judge wished him the best going forward and was “confident this will be the last time we will see you in court”.