94-year-old motorist says not guilty of causing cyclist's death, pleads automatism defence

Case in Scotland relates to death of 30-year-old Leicester woman on anniversary cycling trip with husband

by Simon_MacMichael   March 7, 2013  

Justice (Lonpicman, Wikimedia Commons)

A 94-year-old woman has pleaded not guilty to causing the death of a cyclist through dangerous driving, with motorist entering her plea through her solicitor after she was excused from appearing at court in Edinburgh due to the difficulty in travelling the 170 miles from her home in Caithness, reports STV. The motorist is using the rarely employed defence of automatism.

Elaine Dunne, aged 30, from Leicester was killed in September 2011 at the end of a week-long camping holiday in the north of Scotland with her husband Christopher to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

The pair were stopped at the side of the A99 road between John O’Groats and Wick, where they were heading to catch the train home, when the prosecution says a car driven by Alice Ross came along on the wrong side of the road, went up on the verge and along a pavement before striking the couple. Mrs Dunne was killed and her husband suffered serious injuries.

Ian Duguid QC, speaking in defence of Ms Ross at a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Wednesday, said that the defendant was pleading not guilty to the charge and said that the incident was due to automatism.

The defence – technically, in this case, non-insane automatism - is rarely invoked, but has been successfully used in cases involving diabetics and sleepwalkers.

It was also deployed by REM guitarist Peter Buck in a high-profile case in 2002 in which he was acquitted of assaulting airline staff on a transatlantic flight.

Last year, the Law Commission held a consultation on the defences of insanity and automatism, and it is now preparing its report.

According to papers lodged with the court, Ms Ross claims that a medical condition that was “not foreseeable” at the time had rendered her unconscious, and Mr Duguid, asking for more time to prepare his case.

He said that inquiries about her condition were continuing, with a consultant neurologist and consultant cardiologist involved.

The case is due back in court next month, and Ms Ross has been excused from appearing once more after Mr Duguid explained: "She is 94 years of age. She lives in Caithness and the difficulties for her in travelling to the court are substantial."

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