Suspended driver guilty of killing boy, 5, while buying picnic sweets

A banned driver has been convicted of causing the death of a ‘happy little boy' while he was out buying sweets for a family picnic.

A jury at Newcastle Crown Court on Monday found Darren Jacques, 42, guilty of murdering Layton Darwood on August 25, 2020, when the five-year-old fell from a trailer attached to a van Jacques was driving.

Then Zac – who was halfway through a 42-month drink-driving ban – gave police a false name and repeatedly lied about his identity as emergency services tried to save Leighton's life.

The boy's family said Layton's death was their “worst nightmare” and Jacques' sentencing was a “bittersweet situation” in a statement.

Northumbria Police said they were pleased the jury “saw through the excuses and lies” told by Jacques, calling the convict's behavior “completely unacceptable”.

During a six-day trial, the court heard “harrowing details” of the investigation as well as witness testimony from another child who was present at the scene of the fatal collision, police added.

A subcontractor, Jacques was driving a Ford Transit Tipper and trailer provided by his employer and returning to Cumbria from Fenham, Newcastle when he stopped at a shop in Willow Avenue to buy a bottle of beer.

He got back into the van and started driving away not realizing that Leighton, who was in the same shop as three other children, had climbed into the trailer before he got caught and fell off it.

Phone records revealed contact between Jacques and his employer shortly after the collision, during which Jacques obtained another man's details to give to the police.

CCTV footage of Darren Jacques buying a bottle of beer before killing Layton Darwood

(Northumbria Police)

He continued to lie about his identity for about two hours, even as paramedics and doctors tried to save Layton's life nearby.

Only after the officers asked Zac to use a fingerprint scanner did he reveal his real name.

Later that night, Layton died at a hospital as a result of his injuries.

After the verdict, Leighton's mother, Stephanie Darwood, said: “We are devastated by what has happened and we miss Leighton. He was a loving, happy little boy with his whole life ahead of him and our worst nightmare came true the day we lost him.

“Although some kind of justice was served today, it's a very bitter sweet situation. It took a long, hard three years with many setbacks and challenges along the way.

“If it wasn't for the determination of my mum and Northumbria Police, we wouldn't be here today, seeing justice done for Leighton.”

Darren Zack, who killed the boy Leighton Darwood in a collision

(Northumbria Police)

Chief investigating officer Sergeant Russell Surrey of Northumbria Police said: “To say this case has been devastating would be a complete understatement as the loss of Leighton has caused this family unimaginable pain and suffering that no one should ever have to endure. to pass I would like to commend the strength and resilience they have shown throughout the investigation and subsequent court proceedings.

“I really hope that today can act as the first step towards the closure they deserve and help them move on from this awful, tragic incident.

“I'm glad the jury saw through the excuses and lies Darren Jacques told. Despite his road ban, he was brazenly driving to work and was even in charge of a large, heavy commercial vehicle, which he was not trained or qualified to operate.

“Not only that, but instead of admitting what he had done, Zac provided the attending officers with the details of another person in an attempt to cover his tracks, but roadside checks caught him in the act. He had many opportunities to admit what he did, but instead refused to own up to his actions, repeatedly denying what he did and putting Leighton's family through the agony of a trial.

“Zac's behavior was completely unacceptable and I hope he can now consider the seriousness of his actions.

“This case has had a profound impact on everyone involved, including the officers and staff who helped bring Zac to justice, and it goes without saying that no one, especially a young child, should ever lose their life on our roads.

“We all have a responsibility to drive safely and within the law. Leighton's death is a stark reminder that a momentary lapse in concentration or failure to carry out the most basic checks has the potential to destroy many lives.”

Jacques is due to be sentenced on December 4, with the judge warning him to expect nothing less than a custodial sentence.