Network Rail signalman, 27, jailed for driving his Range Rover into an LNER Azuma train at a level crossing near Doncaster - then claiming it was stolen

A 27-year-old man who falsely reported his Range Rover as stolen after driving it at high speed into the side of a train at a level crossing has been jailed for 10 months.

Michael Rochford worked for Network Rail as a signalling technician before the incident at the Rossington level crossing on the East Coast Main Line near Doncaster on June 13.

CCTV captured the moment his 4x4 collided with the LNER Azuma - which sustained damage while several passengers suffered whiplash injuries and a man in a nearby garden narrowly missed being struck by falling debris.

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Rochford fled the scene after the collision but was arrested three days later.

Michael Rochford's Range Rover after the collision

He was sentenced to 10 months in prison and was disqualified from driving for four years at Sheffield Crown Court today having pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, perverting the course of justice and failing to stop at an earlier court hearing.

The court heard that Rochford, who had no previous convictions and a clean driving licence, had been drinking with friends at Rossington Main Football Club before the crash. He was described as having a significant position of responsibility in his profession and was highly paid.

Witnesses waiting at the crossing described seeing his Range Rover Sport approaching the barriers at speed, mounting the pavement and striking the train before Rochford crawled out of the vehicle and ran away, appearing unsteady and inebriated. He called his mother for a lift, and then reported to police that the car keys had been taken from the football club bar and the vehicle stolen. He claimed to have been told by his brother that it had been involved in an accident.

A neighbour of Rochford's mother overheard him asking family members to 'not tell anyone where I was' and he changed his clothing at the property before being collected by his girlfriend Olivia Cooper.

Michael Rochford, 27

Police who interviewed him at his own home on a newbuild housing estate in Rossington said he 'seemed nervous' and a check of the football club's CCTV later established that he had driven the Range Rover from the premises.

After being arrested he admitted that the car had not been stolen and that he had lied.

The court was told that the collision led to over 15 hours of delays on the main route from London to Edinburgh and cost the railway industry £345,000. One passenger on the Azuma gave a victim impact statement in which he said he still suffered serious pain from his injuries and was reluctant to travel by train again, while Geoffrey Shaw, who had lived in his trackside property for over 40 years, said he had been 'severely shaken' after the falling pole missed him by just 1ft.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, the Recorder of Sheffield, expressed surprise that Rochford was allowed to hold a senior position at Network Rail despite issues in his personal life that could have caused instability, including the break-up of a previous relationship.

Rochford's legal representative said that he had been offered jobs with rail engineering contractors despite being dismissed by Network Rail, and that that incident had had a serious impact on his family, who were supportive of him. Rochford became the main provider for his mother following his parents' separation and remained in a relationship with Miss Cooper, who attended the hearing.

"He can't explain his actions and we may never find out why this happened. He reacted as he did because of sheer panic, as he had never been in trouble with the police before. He reacted appallingly. He knows everything is now lost.

"There is hope and something to work with, he is as criminally naive as it is possible to be and would face huge difficulties in prison. He is an intelligent young man and he still has a positive role to play."

Passing sentence, Judge Richardson said: "You drank heavily and took leave of your senses. You could have caused a major catastrophe where many people would have lost their lives. It is a very serious case. I accept that you are filled with remorse and I have been invited by your solicitor not to 'crush' you.

"Prison will fall very hard upon you. It is a great tragedy that you find yourself in the position that you are in."

Rochford joined Network Rail on a signalling apprenticeship in 2013 and was initially based in York before moving across to the signalling fault department in Sheffield in 2016. He had worked in the rail industry since leaving Hayfield School in Doncaster in 2011, when he was an apprentice at a private sector engineering firm.

Paul Rutter, route director for Network Rail’s East Coast route, said: “This was a shocking incident which could have caused serious injury to passengers and rail workers.

“Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, but this incident acts as a stark reminder of just how important it is to respect the railway and use level crossings safely.”