Van driver who ran over' reveller cleared of murder
PUBLISHED: 16:23 13 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:52 12 August 2010
A PRISON van driver accused of mowing down and killing a woman after she taunted him by dancing in the middle of the road was cleared of all charges on Monday. Andrew Curtis, 49, of The Ridge, Orpington, was taking prisoners back to jail when 34 year-old
A PRISON van driver accused of mowing down and killing a woman after she taunted him by dancing in the middle of the road was cleared of all charges on Monday.
Andrew Curtis, 49, of The Ridge, Orpington, was taking prisoners back to jail when 34 year-old Naomi Benjamin blocked his route through a busy junction in Brixton.
Dozens of passers-by watched in horror as the drunken dancer fell under the wheels while pulling down a windscreen wiper.
Ms Benjamin was dragged 10 metres along the road under the vehicle and died of a broken neck. The incident sparked a mini-riot as outraged witnesses surrounded the van while Curtis sat with his head in his hands.
Curtis denied the charges and insisted he did not see the woman in front of his van when he accelerated and denied any responsibility.
An Old Bailey jury cleared him of both murder and manslaughter after deliberating for about two-and-a-half hours. Judge Martin Stephens QC discharged Curtis from the dock after describing it "a most unusual and difficult case for everyone involved".
Jurors heard Ms Benjamin, also known as Nyaraui, was a well known local character who dressed in brightly coloured clothes. She enjoyed getting drunk in the park before dancing in the middle of the junction of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane.
During rush hour on April 22 last year she started her performance in front of traffic waiting at the red light on the southbound three-lane carriageway. Curtis, who had worked for Serco for six years, was transporting prisoners from a court in Westminster to Brixton Prison. While other vehicles were able to get around Ms Benjamin, Curtis was forced to come to a stop as she blew him a kiss. He then repeatedly edged forward slowly in first gear in an attempt to force her back. Witness Shai Tomochesky told jurors how Ms Benjamin was standing with her hands out saying "come on, come on".
She added: "The vehicle was driving really slowly, in first gear, really slow. She mounted the front of the security van with her two hands. She actually put her hands onto the ridge at the front of the van, the edging of the glass and the bit where the wipers are. She managed to lose her grip and then held onto one of the wipers. The window wipers couldn't hold her weight, and they bent down, and then the lady started to panic.
"She actually lost grip and went under the van."
Another witness, Susan Fraser, added: "I was in shock. Then I was aware of people coming from everywhere going towards the prison van shouting."
Ms Fraser said the victim
was dragged around 10 to 12 metres before the van
stopped. The prosecution claimed Curtis deliberately ran over the victim.
"She was killed suddenly and utterly needlessly by this defendant in a moment of complete madness," said prosecutor Simon Denison. The van turned the victim's body until her head came into contact with the rear wheel.
Mr Denison said: "A crowd of people reacted angrily to what had happened. They surrounded the van and were in a very aggressive mood towards the defendant. He stayed in his van until police arrived."
Curtis later told a police officer that he thought the woman had moved away from the van after pulling his windscreen wiper. Giving evidence in court he said: "When I last saw her it was to the left extremity of my vehicle. I remember sounding the horn. I used the horn twice, at the lights and after her prank."
He added: "I checked my mirrors and I didn't see her in the areas where I would expect someone to be in front of my vehicle," he continued.
"If she was in front of my vehicle I couldn't see her and I didn't see her.
"I was satisfied she was no longer in front of my vehicle.