When Kate Hunter was nearly killed in a car crash at 19 in December 2013, the last thing she ever expected was to become friends with the driver who’d nearly ended her life.
Left with countless broken bones and in need of major surgery in her arm after the smash, promising horse dressage competitor Kate saw her dreams of competing in the 2016 Rio Paralympics vanish.
But in a remarkable act of generosity, Kate, now 21, has not only forgiven Adam Hill, 36 – the driver jailed for 15 months for causing her injuries by dangerous driving - she now counts him as a friend.
After watching sales manager Hill sentenced to 15 months in prison at Lincoln Crown Court in June last year, Kate began to write to him and even went to visit him in jail.
She said: “At first I wanted to visit Adam to help myself move on, I was haunted by the image of him in court.
“But when I saw him, he broke down and apologised to me and my mum. I saw how his life had been ruined by what he’d done, and he was genuinely sorry. Slowly, we formed a friendship.”
Now, Kate – who still has physiotherapy and cannot use her left arm – has forgiven Hill for his part in the crash – and the pair are even fundraising together for Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s Spinal Research Charity.
Kate, who is in a relationship, added: “Everyone deserves a second chance. People might not agree with my decision, but holding a grudge won’t help either of us, and I have to stay positive to make a full recovery.”
Adam, a self-employed car salesman who lives in Lincoln, added: “I have to live with the consequences of this accident forever and the guilt I feel for what happened will never go away.
“Kate’s forgiveness and now friendship has had a profound impact on my life and has inspired me to do whatever I can to make some good from an awful situation.”
Kate had to learn to walk and talk again in 2009 after landing on her head during a horse riding accident – nearly leaving her brain-damaged at 14 years old.
She began riding again in 2011 as a Paralympic competitor and had dreams of competing in Brazil in 2016, and also worked at a veterinary surgery.
But on December 18, 2013 her dream of attending the 2016 Paralympics was shattered.
Kate’s friend Beth Tyson, then 19, gave her a lift in her Ford Fiesta after they had visited Kate’s horses in Market Rasen.
But, when they were driving along the on the A46 near Market Rasen, they were hit by Hill, then 35, who was driving a 32k Audi on the wrong side of the road.
Kate still has no recollection of what happened, and has relied on Beth telling her about the crash.
She said: “I was knocked unconscious immediately and don’t remember a thing.”
Kate was rushed to Lincoln County Hospital and was treated for severe nerve damage in her left arm, a broken nose, a Traumatic Brain Injury, two breaks in her hand, and cuts and bruises. She underwent an operation at a hospital in London.
Her friend Beth was left with numerous broken bones and underwent surgery for her injuries.
Devastated Kate was told she faced years of surgery and physio and must abandon her Paralympic dreams and would never be able to use her left arm properly again due to nerve damage.
Kate said: “I tried to be positive but it wasn’t easy. Mostly, I was in shock.
“The doctors were pretty upfront about the fact I wouldn’t be horse-riding any time soon, and they said I’d have to give up working as well.
“It felt like my life had been pulled out from underneath me. While I tried hard to come to terms with what had happened, I felt angry and sad about what I’d lost.
“Back then I was aware that Adam had been arrested but didn’t think too much about it as I was concentrating on myself.”
Kate was discharged after a week in hospital and began physiotherapy.
She said: “The recovery process was gruelling. All I wanted to do was live a normal life, but I was dependent on my parents and boyfriend Ben for help with everything.”
Slowly the physiotherapy began to pay off and in August 2014, determined Kate started riding again.
She said: “I felt like I’d lost so much time and didn’t want to waste another second. I chose gentle horses to ride as I couldn’t use my left arm and could only hold the reigns with one hand.
In April 2014 she had been diagnosed with Brachial Plexus Injury – meaning she had severe nerve-damage preventing her from using her arm properly – and had a seven-hour operation to amend it.
In June 2015, Adam Hill was convicted of two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving at Lincoln Crown Court.
Kate says: “All I wanted was for him to hold his hands up, admit what he’d done and apologise. But during the trial, he didn’t even look at me.”
Adam said: “I was wracked with guilt and desperate to apologise, but I was advised by solicitors to respect the families and stay away.
“The first thing I said after my conviction was ‘can I apologise to the girls now?’ – which was noted in my pre-sentencing report.”
He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and issued with a three-year driving ban.
Speaking of his conviction Adam said: “I just wanted to respect the law and do what I had to make things right – and if that meant going to prison, fine.”
Kate tells how she was ‘haunted’ by the image of Hill looking at her when he was sentenced and saying ‘sorry’.
She said: “Whenever I heard his name or thought back to that moment I got stuck on that image.
“I didn’t want to imagine him that way, it was keeping me up at night.”
In August she contacted the restorative justice team at Lincoln and asked to contact Adam.
She explained: “I wanted to reach out to him as I thought it would help me get some peace of mind.
“Over the next month or so we exchanged two letters each. Adam apologised profusely and I told him I would not hold a grudge.
“I realised that I actually wanted to meet him in person, and the team at Lincoln were happy to set up a moderated meeting.”
Kate tells how her parents and boyfriend of five years Ben Oakes, 22, a joiner, were supportive of her decision.
She said: “At first they were afraid that visiting Adam might set me back, but when I explained I thought it would actually help they backed me and my mum agreed to come along.
“They didn’t have any anger towards Adam, as they knew the crash had been an accident – he hadn’t been drunk or speeding when he hit me.”
The following month, Kate and her mum Sue, 62, went to visit.
Adam recalled: “I was so grateful when I realised they had agreed to see me, but felt really nervous as well.
“The meeting was set up with the restorative justice team there to mediate, but I was still afraid Kate’s mum might be angry.
“But when she saw me she told me she knew the crash had been an accident.”
Kate said: “I was really nervous, too. But when I laid eyes on Adam I just felt sorry for him – I could see in his eyes how anxious he was.
“The three of us sat down in a room and each relayed our memory of that night, one by one. By the end of our two hour meeting, we’d all cried at least once.
“Adam looked me in the eye and apologised and I told him I forgave him.
“I realised that hating Adam wasn’t going to help anyone – and I genuinely believed he felt awful for what had happened. He’d been punished enough, I wanted to help him.”
Adam said: “I wouldn’t have blamed them if they hated me, but the fact they didn’t was such a relief. I was impressed and inspired by Kate’s emotional maturity.
“We vowed to stay in touch and I promised to do anything I could to make things right. It was so rewarding.”
The pair continued to write to one another for the duration of his incarceration.
When Adam was released in November after serving four and a half months of his sentence, Kate arranged to meet up with him again.
She said: “Adam and I stayed in touch. We texted over Christmas and New Year and he sent me a bouquet and card on my birthday.
“I realised I thought of him as a friend.
“We’d talk about how we were feeling about things and whatever was going on in our lives.”
Adam said: “It took me a while to get a job and my relationship broke down after everything that happened. I struggled with anxiety and depression after coming out of prison and it was a huge help that Kate was there for me.
“It meant a lot to know her family and boyfriend supported her decision to be my friend, too.”
In March Kate was invited to become an ambassador for Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s Spinal Research Charity.
She said: “He asked what he could do to help me and my cause, and asked if I’d be comfortable with him raising money towards the spinal charity.”
Adam said: “I’ve set up a fundraising page and plan to run a half marathon in October. It doesn’t make up for what happened or put it right, but I hope it shows Kate and her family just how sorry I am.”
Kate said: “To me, it’s proof that he meant it when he said he’d do anything to make things right.”
Now, Kate says she’s gaining strength though regular physio and hopes to compete in the 2024 Paralympics. She says the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo will come too soon.
She admits she has lost contact with former pal Beth because they had ‘different’ ideas about forgiving Hill.
Kate said: “I don’t judge her or have ill-feelings towards Beth at all. We both went through something horrific and dealt with it in different ways.”
Adam says he is ‘full of admiration for Kate’.
He said: “She has inspired me with her kindness and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.”
Kate added: “I hope to remain friends with Adam – it’s something good to come from a horrendous ordeal.
“Hating Adam would only hurt us both.
“Our friendship means we can both move on.”