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Five years jail for one, community service for the other

The sentencing of people convicted of driving offences which have caused death or serious injury to cyclists, is an issue that often enrages the cycling community.

All too often it seems that those affected, be it loved ones left behind or victims whose lives are irrevocably changed through injury, feel they have been failed by a justice system that is too lenient or shows little consistency in its sentencing procedures.

While the following two cases are not entirely comparable, they are at the very least, indicative of how sentencing for what appear to be similar offences can show wide variations.

Yesterday in Cumbria, 19-year old Matthew Lowther was sentenced to five years in a young offenders’ institution and banned from driving for a similar period. Having denied the offence, he had earlier been convicted of causing the death by dangerous driving of a cyclist, 43-year old mother of three Louise Stoddart.

Also yesterday, over the border in Scotland, which has its own legal system, appeal court judges upheld an earlier decision by a sheriff, not to jail a motorist who had admitted to being responsible for the death of a cyclist through careless driving.

Stephen McKay, 35, had been ordered to carry out 240 hours of community service after he admitted causing the death of 29-year old Brian Taylor by driving carelessly.

McKay's driving record included convictions for drink-driving, driving while disqualified and speeding, yet appeal court judges refused to jail him, electing instead to increase his driving ban from 12 months to four years and ordering him to re-sit his driving test.

Clearly, one driver denied his guilt and the other admitted it, factors which influence sentencing. But to many observers the former sentence at least starts to reflect the value of the life lost and may cause other young men to think about their own behaviour behind the wheel. The decision by the Scottish courts, however, will simply appear baffling to many.

There is, of course, a difference in the eyes of the law between "careless" and the more serious "dangerous" driving offences, but for the loved ones of the victims, that distinction is probably academic. For those left behind, it seems, it is the outcome of the careless/dangerous driving that should be the focus of sentencing judges and not the legal technicalities of the offence.