AN ACCOUNTANT who ran over and killed two young women because he was distracted by a text message exchange with his girlfriend has been jailed for six years.

Shelby Maher, 17, and Rachel Murphy, 23, were clearly visible as they crossed the middle of the A59 Brockholes Brow, but Mohmed Salman Patel, 26, was more interested in his mobile phone and failed to see them.

Miss Murphy was pronounced dead at the scene of the collision with the defendant’s BMW 3 Series in the early evening of April 20 2016, while Miss Maher died in hospital.

Asian Image: Mohmed Salman Patel

Another teenage girl in the group of five friends crossing the road was seriously injured and was in hospital for a week.

The defendant’s phone was seized and examined after emergency services arrived following his 999 call from the scene, Preston Crown Court heard.

Francis McEntee, prosecuting, said Patel sent two text messages to his girlfriend at 6.12pm on April 20 asking her whereabouts.

At 6.37pm she replied “yeah at mate’s” to which he swiftly responded: “Her house?”

Within 42 seconds of sending that message Patel, of Carham Road, Blackburn, had killed the pair, and next used his mobile to ring the emergency services, the court heard.

Mr McEntee said: “The defendant did not brake or swerve as he drove his car. We say the pedestrians were clearly visible in the middle of the road.

“The reason that he did not see them in broad daylight was he was more interested in his mobile phone than the road ahead.”

Asian Image: Rachel Murphy and Shelby Maher who died after being hit by Mohmed Salman Patel

The prosecutor told jurors they would hear evidence from other drivers who saw the group “dawdling somewhat” in the road as they approached up the hill into the city centre.

He said that when interviewed by police the defendant said his final text message was sent while his vehicle was stationary at traffic lights well before the collision took place.

Mr McEntee said Patel later said the message was sent at a different set of lights nearer the scene.

During his defence Patel, who was on a shopping trip to Preston with his mother and sister as passengers, said he texted his girlfriend before he set off and was in possession of his mobile phone and an e-cigarette machine.

He admitted to texting his girlfriend while stationary at traffic lights on the roundabout approaching Brockholes Brow but denied having it in his hand at the time of the impact.

When asked by defence barrister, Paul Hynes QC, whether he saw any pedestrians in the road before the crash, Patel said: “No.”

He also denied being distracted by anything.

Patel had pleaded not guilty to causing the deaths of the pair but a jury took just 41 minutes to find him guilty on two counts of causing death by dangerous driving.

Patel was also banned from driving for nine years.

Speaking after the sentencing, senior crown prosecutor Tom Snape said: “Evidence showed that there was just a matter of seconds between Mohmed Patel sending a text message while driving, and him colliding with the victims as they crossed the road.

“While Patel pleaded guilty to careless driving, the CPS was not prepared to accept his plea to the lesser charge.

“His actions in texting while behind the wheel were shown to be dangerous, and that moment of deliberate distraction by his mobile phone had tragic consequences for the family and friends of Rachel and Shelby. Our thoughts are with them.”

Supt Julian Platt said: “This is a tragic case where two young women lost their lives, with another girl injured. My thoughts and those of my colleagues remain with the families, friends of the victims and all of those affected by this appalling incident.

“Mohmed Patel must live with the results of his actions, knowing that he has taken the lives of these two young women. I hope that this terrible case will at least act as a deterrent for anyone who still thinks it is acceptable to use a mobile phone while they are driving.

“The message is clear and simple – do not use your mobile phone while behind the wheel. Just taking your eyes off the road for a second or two to check a text, an email or a social media post can have devastating consequences both for you and for others.”