A 27-YEAR-OLD man who raced his car through the centre of  Tetbury while it was full of tourists and crashed into other cars near Prince Charles' home has avoided jail.

Simon Stevenson, who was badly injured in the collision, was told by a Gloucester Crown Court judge on Friday that: "This was a hellishly dangerous piece of driving."

Prosecutor Tim Hills said that having driven at speed through the centre of Tetbury Stevenson crossed a central white line to overtake on the A433 road outside the town.

An oncoming woman motorist managed to get out of the way as Stevenson's Ford Fiesta headed straight for her near Shipton Moyne - close to the Prince's Highgrove House estate.

He then swerved back to his own side but went out of control 'because of the violence of the manoeuvre he had just executed,' said Mr Hills.

"His car brushed the nearside verge and began to spin. It spun into the rear of a Vitara which was propelled across the road into the opposite verge and stone wall.

"It turned over and went onto its nearside.

"Meanwhile, the defendant collided with another car and debris was seen flying off it.

"The force of the collision ripped off the offside rear wheel of the defendant's car. It was hopelessly out of control.

"The defendant was flung out from the passenger window and landed on his back in the road."

One of the cars he had hit was a write off, added Mr Hills.

He said Stevenson's bad driving had lasted about 10 minutes and covered 2-3 miles from the time he left work at an industrial estate in Tetbury at 4.45pm on 15th August last year.

"Tetbury is an old fashioned and attractive market town which has recently become popular because of its Royal connections," said Mr Hills. "It was full and busy and thronged with tourists and the like."

It had been alleged that Stevenson was racing with another man who had also left work in his car that afternoon.

But the other man, Lewis Dyer, 21,of North Road, Yate, nr Bristol, was found not guilty last month of dangerous driving.

Mr Hills said witnesses saw Stevenson overtaking Dyer's Seat car on a dangerous bend in the town. 

On a roundabout by the Market Hall people had to run for safety as Stevenson sped through on his way out of town towards Westonbirt.

Mr Hills told the court that in the collision which ended the incident Stevenson suffered a broken bone in the shoulder and also had cracked ribs. He suffered a bang on the head which caused concussion.

Paul Trotman, defending, said that Stevenson, formerly of Courtfield, Tetbury, but now living in Birmingham, had been made redundant from his job in Tetbury shortly after he returned work from three weeks injured.

He described it as a 'very strange offence.'

"It was the middle of the afternoon, he was on his way home from work and there were no drugs or drink involved," Mr Trotman said. "He has no previous convictions. He behaved out of character on the spur of the moment. It was completely irrational."

Recorder Levene told Stevenson "This was an absolutely excruciating piece of driving. I cannot imagine what got into you.

"The public really couldn't care less whether you were injured or killed yourself.  It was on the cards that you would kill or seriously injure someone else.

"But I accept this was a complete one off. No-one has been able to find out what on earth got into you on that day."

Stevenson was given a six months jail term suspended for two years. He was ordered to do 240 hours of unpaid work and was banned from driving for two years.