A DRIVER who killed one of England's top veteran cyclists during a road race was spared jail after a court heard how his brief lapse of concentration led to the accident that "could have happened to anybody".

Leonard Grayson, 75, died instantly when he was hit during a 100-mile time trial along the A19 near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, last August.

Peter Barraclough admitted causing his death by careless driving after he took his eyes off the road for a matter of seconds when a lorry on the opposite carriageway caught his attention.

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Barraclough, 30, from East Cowton near Northallerton, initially thought he had hit a bird before he stopped, looked in his mirror and realised he had careered into Mr Grayson, Teesside Crown Court heard today (Friday, June 21).

Peter Makepeace, prosecuting, described the incident as "extremely tragic" while defence barrister, Ian West, said it was a case of "there but for the grace of God go I".

Mr Grayson, who lived in Garforth, West Yorkshire with Kathleen, his wife of 49 years, was described as "a remarkable man who belied his years".

Mr Makepeace said he was a nationally-renowned amateur cyclist winning many cups and trophies in his younger years, but gave up cycling in the 1960s to spend time with his family. He returned to the sport in the 1980s and rekindled his success.

The "passionate" cyclist took part in 100-mile-plus races against men half his age and "had many friends in the cycling world and was clearly very well respected", said the prosecutor.

When he died, he had completed 83 miles of the "gruelling" 100-mile route at an average speed of more than 20mph - a feat the judge described as "an amazing capacity for a man of his age".

Barraclough had been working in nearby Topcliffe and was driving his Alfa Romeo along the A19 within the speed limit shortly before the accident.

Signs were in place warning motorists of the event, which Barraclough later told police he had seen.

Police accident investigators said Barraclough would have seen Mr Grayson for at least nine seconds, but the driver admitted he had been looking at a low loader lorry on the opposite carriageway just before the collision.

Barraclough went into shock as he stood beside the road, "crying out in anguish", and was heard to say: "It was a split-second thing. I'm going to jail".

Mr Grayson was wearing a helmet, high-visibility clothing and had an LED light on the back of his bike, the court heard.

Ian West, mitigating, told Mr Grayson's family, who were in court: "On behalf of Peter Barraclough, can I express his sincere condolences to Kathleen Grayson and her family?

"He could not be more remorseful. He is a decent man, a hard-working man. His life is scarred by this tragic accident as well, as I'm sure Mr Grayson's family understands."

Mr West said it was a horrific accident and a case of "there but for the grace of God go I", adding: "It's the sort of accident that could happen to anybody.

"Nothing will take from Peter Barraclough the fact he will have to live for the rest of his with the knowledge that he killed a man."

Judge Peter Bowers said Barraclough was a "decent", "outstanding" man whose brief error had led to a terrible tragedy that has scarred so many lives.

He described Mr Grayson as "one of the best top veterans in this country" and said: "It is clearly a devastating life-shattering event for his family.

"There are always two tragedies in cases like this. By far the greatest is the victim of this."

He told Barraclough, who admitted causing death by careless driving: "You're intelligent, decent and, from the reports and evidence I have seen, an outstanding young man."

But he added: "Your driving did, in my judgment, fall substantially below what was acceptable."

He gave him a five-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered him to do 250 hours of unpaid work, and banned him from driving for 18 months.