A young driver who killed his best friend when he lost control of his van when speeding and crashed into a tree has walked free from court.

Luke Ford tried to blame brake failure for the fatal crash but a police collision investigation showed the Ford Transit van was in fine working order.

Philip Plews, who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident, suffered fatal injuries when Ford lost control of the van, a judge heard.

The 20-year-old admitted causing the death of Mr Plews by careless driving on February 2, 2022, on Carmel Road South, Darlington, at Teesside Crown Court.

The Northern Echo: Philip PlewsPhilip Plews (Image: Durham Constabulary)

His mother, Ann-Marie Robinson, told a judge of the devastating impact the loss of her 17-year-old son had on her family in a powerful victim impact statement.

Robin Turton, prosecuting, said ‘excessive speed’ and skidding on a drain cover were contributing factors to the crash that resulted in the death of the 17-year-old.

The court heard how Ford was driving at around 50mph in the 30mph zone in the moments leading up to the crash after police viewed some CCTV footage from the nearby Blackwell Stores.

The police investigation also revealed there was no evidence of harsh braking in the seconds leading up to the impact.

Ford lost control of the van as he drove around a bend and it was seen spinning anti-clockwise before it mounted the kerb and collided with a tree and an electricity utility box.

Mr Turton said nitrous oxide was discovered inside the van but Ford passed a roadside drug test.

Ford, of Longfield Road, Darlington, pleaded guilty to causing the teenager's death by careless driving.

The Northern Echo: Friends and family paid tribute to Philip Plews following his death in February 2022.Friends and family paid tribute to Philip Plews following his death in February 2022.

Helen Towers, mitigating, said it is clear that when the van hit the drain covers it would have unsettled the driver and the van.

She told the court that Ford was 18-years-old at the time of the crash and was clearly "distressed at the scene".

Judge Howard Crowson sentenced Ford to a three-year community order with a six-month mental health treatment requirement, attend 35 rehabilitation activity requirement days and carry out 300 hours of unpaid work.

He said: “Philip Plews was 17, but he was regarded as immature for his years. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt. It is perhaps an indication of your lack of care for your passengers, that you did not ensure he was wearing his seatbelt.

The Northern Echo: The funeral of Philip PlewsThe funeral of Philip Plews

"You lost control, went into a spin and hit a tree. The damage was to the passenger side and Mr Plews suffered fatal head injuries.

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The Northern Echo:

"Your first thought was to avoid getting yourself into trouble. You were distraught. We don't know the reason for your phone call. You were unable to accept it was your responsibility.

"You said you were driving at 30mph. You blamed your brakes but your vehicle was mechanically sound. I can tell, from your appearance in court, that you are remorseful.

"The sentence I'm imposing is not a measure of Philip's life. No sentence can do that.”

The 20-year-old was also banned from driving for three years and told he must pass an extended driving test before driving on the roads again.