A WOMAN left paralysed after a devastating accident has forgiven the driver who ploughed into the back of her stationary car and 'bears him no malice', a court heard yesterday.

Sixty-year-old Marilyn McKnight suffered life-changing injuries when motorist Craig Harding crashed into her car on the busy A19 while 'rubber necking' an accident on the opposite side of the road has been jailed for 16 months.

The accident left her with paralysis or partial paralysis in all four limbs and torso.

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Mrs McKnight suffered a series of heart attacks, two collapsed lungs and "significant" spinal fractures and was rushed by air ambulance to James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, where medics feared she would not survive.

However, she spent seven months in hospital and is now tetraplegic and unlikely to ever walk again or return to work.

The probation worker has now returned home, but needs carers for even basic tasks.

Harding, 44, an engineer described as a reliable, hardworking, bright and conscientious, was heading north on the dual carriageway near Hutton Henry, east Durham, on Sunday, March 15, last year.

Durham Crown Court heard he was distracted by tailbacks following an earlier accident on the southbound side, itself caused by a driver heading in the wrong direction, and crashed his VW Polo into Mrs McKnight's stationary Ford Ka.

It was Mother’s Day and she, together with son Kevin and daughter-in-law Rachel, were driving to South Shields to visit her 85-year-old mother, prosecutor Joanne Kidd said.

The Ka was propelled into a stationary Mini and flipped onto its roof.

As well as Mrs McKnight's devastating injuries, her son and daughter-in-law suffered lesser injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Harding, of Outram Street, Houghton-le-Spring, told police he had not noticed the stationary vehicles ahead and admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

His barrister, Paul Currer, said Harding had slowed to 44mph and suggested sharp braking by a vehicle further ahead had contributed to the crash.

But he added: “He’s completely mortified and haunted by the extent of the injuries that have been sustained.”

In a victim statement, Mrs McKnight said she bore Harding no malice, reflecting: “There but for the grace of God go I” – an attitude Ms Kidd called “very magnanimous and brave”.

Mr Currer said Harding was “humbled” by the comment and Judge Christopher Prince said it demonstrated great humanity and compassion.

Mr Currer said his client and his family would be haunted by the crash every Mother’s Day, but blamed a momentary “lapse of concentration”.

He asked Judge Prince to suspend an immediate prison sentence, but the judge refused, saying there had been “serious failings” in his driving and he must receive the appropriate punishment, sending a clear message to other motorists that dangerous driving can cause serious injury.

Judge Prince said while three references he had been handed on Harding’s behalf showed him to be a reliable, hardworking, bright and conscientious man, he had allowed himself to be “avoidably distracted” and his driving showed “serious failings”.

“You should have thought to look ahead because it would have been obvious to you that if you could be distracted by events in the southbound carriageway, others may similarly be distracted,” he said.

Saying he had caused Mrs McKnight “catastrophic injuries” he jailed Harding for 16 months and banned him from driving for two years and eight months.