A wealthy businesswoman accused of fleeing the scene of a car prang has been cleared after arguing she was flustered after shielding from Covid and her bungling attempts to park her Mercedes convertible to go on a shopping trip.
Andrea Francis, 66, accidentally scraped a stationary Audi as she unsuccessfully tried to reverse into a parking bay to pick up items from a shop in a Cheshire village.
She got out of her car when her black SL350 mounted a pavement only to then drive away to a nearby car park – leaving the A3 Sport with dents and scrapes to its rear she says she did not see.
Police then traced Francis after her Mercedes numberplate was caught on CCTV – and charged her with careless driving and of failing to stop and report an accident.
Francis is a £140,000-a-year boss of a pharmaceutical firm which she runs from her luxury £1.2million house in the affluent village of Marthall.
Andrea Francis is a £140,000-a-year boss of a pharmaceutical firm which she runs from her luxury £1.2million house in the affluent Cheshire village of Marthall
At Tameside Magistrates’ Court this week, she was cleared of failing to stop and report an accident after insisting she had not realised she had crashed into anything because she felt ‘ridiculous’ and ‘stressed’ over her bad parking.
Francis was instead given six penalty points on her licence and fined £1,500 after she admitted careless driving over the incident on August 7 last year.
The court heard Francis had gone shopping in the centre of Hale village, near Altrincham, after shielding at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutor Nick Smart said: ‘She was driving her Mercedes when she bumped into an Audi A3 which was left secure and unattended.
‘CCTV footage showed the Mercedes reversing into the space in front of the Audi but the rear of the defendant’s car goes onto the footpath.
‘The driver then pulls forward to move her Mercedes back out into the road to manoeuvre again but it is this point her vehicle scrapes and rubs against the Audi causing damage to the rear of the vehicle.
‘The defendant then gets out of her car and is looking over at the Audi. She then goes behind the back of her Mercedes and checks for possible damage caused to her car. She then gets back into her own vehicle and drives off.
Ashley Road in Hale, Cheshire, where Francis struggled to park her Mercedes convertible
‘No note or any details were left at the scene. There was damage to the Audi including the front left side panel which was dented and scraped. The wheel trim on the left side was also scraped and scratched.’
In her defence Francis, who has worked as a senior clinical researcher with various pharmaceutical firms around the world including AstraZeneca and Roch over the past 30 years, insisted she was not aware she had pranged the Audi because she was under stress at the time.
She said: ‘I had been previously diagnosed with a chest infection and was at high risk of catching Covid and I had been shielding for three months.
‘I had not made many other journeys before this as I had to shield. I did not know what to expect and it was one of the first occasions I had been out for some time.
‘I was feeling anxious and upset as I did not know how things were going with COVID. I was collecting some material from a shop in Hale village that was about to close down and it was on my mind to get home. I did not want to extend my trip.’
Francis said it was a ‘busy road’ with traffic travelling on both sides with ‘lots of pedestrians and I wanted to park in that space because the shop I needed was opposite the road’.
She continued: ‘My manoeuvre was awful the first time my back wheel went into the pavement, I felt ridiculous and I had to come back into the traffic.
‘That was when the collision must have occurred. There was a noticeable sound in the car but I truly was not aware of the collision.
The court heard Francis had gone shopping in the centre of Hale after shielding at home
‘Had I known then I would have looked to see if there was anyone in the car and then I would have left a note on the windscreen. I got out of the car and went around the back as I wanted to see how I was parked on the pavement.’
She admitted the way she parked ‘wasn’t great’, adding: ‘I saw a mark to the other vehicle but I thought it was a mud splash. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I was more concerned about parking the car and I just couldn’t face trying to park it there again.’
Under cross examination, she added: ‘I was stressed with my own problems. I was holding the traffic up and I was angled out onto the road.
‘I went to park in a big car park after and then walked back to the shop. I looked down at the wheel and noticed the mark but I thought it was a mud splash.
‘I was not looking for any damage. At that time I thought enough was enough and that was when I drove off. I was not chancing my arm in the hope I would get away with it.
‘As far as I was concerned I had not hit anything or done anything wrong. I had just been isolating for three months, I was only aware of this when the police called me. I didn’t know I had hit anything.’
Francis was also ordered to pay £250 in costs and surcharges. JP Marilyn Gibson told her ‘From our evaluation, the evidence you gave was consistent and you gave a clear account.
‘Therefore, our findings on the balance of probabilities are that you had no awareness of the crash.’