Community service for driver convicted of killing second cyclist in 25 years

Double killer spared jail for "momentary" loss of concentration - judge notes victim's lack of helmet

by Tony Farrelly   May 3, 2013  

Justice (Lonpicman, Wikimedia Commons)

Gary McCourt the Edinburgh man found guilty of causing the death by careless driving of cyclist Audrey Fife in August 2011 has been sentenced to 300 hours community service and banned from driving for five years at the Edinburgh Sheriff Court. After the guilty verdict was returned in the case of Mrs Fife it was revealed that McCourt was also responsible for the death of another cyclist, 22 year-old student, George Dalgity in 1986.

Sentencing McCourt who admitted to police that he had "clipped" Mrs Fife's bike, Sheriff James Scott said that the collision had occurred when McCourt "momentarily" lost concentration and that while "Mrs Fife wasn't in any way to blame for the accident" in his view the fact that she wasn't wearing a helmet contributed to her death. 

According to the BBC Sheriff Scott said he felt able to spare McCourt a prison sentence because there were no aggravating factors, such as drink or drug abuse - although some will surely question whether the fact that this was McCourt's second offence was in itself an aggravating factor.

Sheriff Scot said he also took in to account the fact that McCourt had frequently expressed genuine remorse and that the 47-year old suffered from depression and showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder.

Prior to sentencing Mrs Fife's widower, John had said that jailing McCourt would be a waste of taxpayers money, however as we reported last weekend Mr Dalgity's family felt strongly to the contrary and wrote to the court calling on the Sheriff to impose a stiff sentence.

“It’s been suggested that sending him to jail would be a waste of taxpayers’ money but the four years that George spent at university could be seen as that, too,” she adds. “He never had a chance to use his degree. Never had a chance to live his life,” George Dalgity's sister, Ann told The Scotsman.

There is the possibility that McCourt's sentence could be appealed on the grounds of undue leniency, whether to proceed with such an appeal will be a matter for the procurator fiscal's office, the body that performs a similar role in bringing prosecutions in Scotland as the CPS does in England and Wales.

What can be said with more certainty is that the sentence imposed by this court on a man who has now been convicted of killing two cyclists is sure to reignite the debate about lenient sentencing for drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians. Last year a coalition of cycling organisations and other road safety groups met with the Helen Grant the Justice Minister with responsibility for victims & the courts to call for a review of sentencing guidelines in such cases. While the minister expressed her support and  promised to look in to the matter as yet there has been no further action taken.

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Words can't describe my frustration.

Would he have not hit her if she was wearing a helmet then Mr Scott? So it's her fault now?

Fucking pillock!

Chiggety check yourself before you wreck yourself

posted by therealsmallboy [88 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 14:07


Well both these cases occurred in the UK badkneestom, but the big difference would be that wearing a seatbelt in a car is a legal requirement whereas wearing a helmet while riding a bike is not.

The Sheriff's comment regarding Mrs Fife's lack of a helmet seem on the face of it ill-informed because his assumption seems to be that the outcome would have been different had she been wearing one however it seems unlikely to me that having been "clipped" by a car she would have been traveling at a low enough speed for the helmet to have made any difference to the outcome.

But let's not get sidetracked by talking about helmets, the issue here is that a man whose driving skills are so poor that he has killed twice in 25 years, has been given what amounts to a slap on the wrist by the courts. The fact that the sheriff didn't conclude that it was maybe time for McCourt to hand over his driving keys permanently is almost more gob-smacking than the sentence.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4155 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 14:22


Disgusting. Last month in London a man was given a (suspended) jail sentence for fraudulently topping up an Oyster card. Obviously a bigger crime than killing someone.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 14:52


In other news, a judge said that a gunshot victim's failure to wear a kevlar vest contributed to their death.

posted by benb [54 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 15:00


If he had driven into a pedestrian who wasn't wearing a helmet, would the Judge have made the same comment?

There seems to be an increasing pressure to wear helmets even though they are not compulsory under law.

posted by Tom Amos [246 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 15:11


Make helmets and hi-viz compulsory. That should help sort out the cycling problem.

posted by Paul J [668 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 15:40


Poor Mrs Fife had clearly been enjoying cycling all her life and survived until 75 without wearing a helmet and then this ©unt comes along and suddenly it contributed to her death? The only thing that contributed to her death was this murdering dickhead getting in his car when he should be in prison.

posted by Some Fella [815 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 15:51


Yet another justice FAIL.


tourdelound's picture

posted by tourdelound [92 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 16:01


Well he only 'clipped' her with the car, after all. The fact that the vehicle weighed over a ton didn't kill her, it was the lack of a non-compulsory helmet. Obviously.

Looking on the bright side, every time such an appalling sentence is handed down, it reinforces the points made by the all-party report on cycling - i.e. the law is failing vulnerable road users.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3424 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 16:07


I'd give him post traumatic stress disorder...

I use lights at night as it's the law.

I wear a helmet as I choose to. Others have the choice not too and I support that.

I do not wear hi vis because it should not be necessary. If it is we should all pop in on to cross the road.

Our Gary should have had a 10 year ban. It'll give him more time to cycle to work and experience what it's like to run the gauntlet of the careless, the impatient and the downright psychotic people that as cyclists we all meet every week.

I have nothing but contempt for him.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1084 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 16:16


Tony, from my understanding (given I'm on break and had to read fast) the helmet discussion should be considered because the judge took it into account.

What would the penalty have been if he had hit another car when the individual hadn't been utilizing an unrequired safety device? I'm mentioning helmet to seat belt because that's the closest comparison I can think of.

[custom] '12 Cannondale CAAD10 - Rival

badkneestom's picture

posted by badkneestom [129 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 17:05


British justice at it best. That tool is now on a roll, he probably thinks if I do it again I'll get a medal.

posted by Fatbagman [20 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 17:06


The difference is that seatbelts are mandatory unless it's an old car.

Airbags are a different kettle of fish. If she'd been a passenger in a car without passenger airbags and suffered a head injury, can you imagine the outcry if the judge had said that it was partly her fault as her car didn't have them fitted?

posted by gazza_d [258 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 17:18


I can't describe how furious I am. I just want to see the little shite die a slow and painful death, and I am anti-death penalty. Six months in prison for going for a swim and disturbing some Hooray Henrys sporting event (last years Boat Race), and community service for killing two cyclists. I just don't fucking get it......

posted by Dropped [40 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 17:32


Och, man; surely he's entitled to a cyclist every 30 years? Wee Jock weeps.

posted by Cauld Lubter [122 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 18:03


The carnage continues, this one absolutely incredible. Nothing to do with helmets, rather it should be a priority to get this animal off the road. Absolutely appaling.

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 18:44


According to the judge "I take into account that the accused has been ill and has suffered from depression and that he displays signs of post-traumatic stress disorder."

Shame you didn't take the fact that he has killed two cyclists in two separate incidents into account. Wonder if you had been equally considerate if he had killed 2 motorists

I am only as insane as the insanity around me (Jens Voigt)

posted by alronald [58 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 18:50


If he gets his hat-trick, will the judge award him the bike to keep as a trophy? Something to pass on to the grandchildren.


posted by Mat Brett [1929 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 19:20


FFS! again we are let down by ill informed twerps who sit in judgement and who are there supposidly to protect the innocent, oh wait the victim wasn't wearing a piece of expanded polystyrene packing case on their head so that's ok Angry .


posted by Rupert49 [38 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 19:36


gazza_d wrote:
The difference is that seatbelts are mandatory unless it's an old car.

Airbags are a different kettle of fish. If she'd been a passenger in a car without passenger airbags and suffered a head injury, can you imagine the outcry if the judge had said that it was partly her fault as her car didn't have them fitted?

There, thank you. What would happen if he killed someone due to lack of airbag in a vehicle? I'm sure there are court cases to show what the penalty was..

[custom] '12 Cannondale CAAD10 - Rival

badkneestom's picture

posted by badkneestom [129 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 21:21


What more does this twat have to do to get a custodial sentence, despicable.

posted by matdicko [8 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 21:22


matdicko wrote:
What more does this twat have to do to get a custodial sentence, despicable.

[[[[ Er...he has to "clip" (kill) a member of the judiciary, who's wearing elbow-pads, knee-pads, suit of armour, kevlar vest, and of course a helmet.
Although the driver will escape any real penalty as long as he's contrite and feeling a bit sad, like.


posted by PhilRuss [304 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 23:09


Words. Words. More bad words. My deepest sympathies to the victim's family. This isn't justice. This isn't right. You can't kill two people through "carelessness", feel a bit down about it and get away with a telling off and picking up rubbish in the park.

The next general election is in 2 years and 3 days time.

Make the buggers sweat for your vote.

posted by Argos74 [301 posts]
3rd May 2013 - 23:47


My condolences to the families of the victims for their losses and the slap over the pathetically inadequate sentence.

How, in the name of all that is Good and Holy, can such a sentence be acceptable! It is not a question. Guilt, remorse and shame are not enough. A tangible, measurable and meaningful penalty is required. Accidents happen; but twice? It may not deter every such incident but a stronger sentence is fully warranted.
If I told you that twelve years ago while riding my bike I knocked over a pram and caused brain damage to a baby, what would you say? There would have been a world-wide search for me. And, if I did it again last week, do I have to ask if your blood would be boiling.

I live in Canada and have only recently started reading I am astounded and disturbed over the number of incidents. Perhaps the rate of cycling incidents is no greater than before, but at least people are being made aware of the issue of sharing the road. It troubles me that there are still people blaming the victims. On the other hand, I suppose those women pushing those prams should really have been more responsible.

posted by QAEngineer624 [8 posts]
4th May 2013 - 0:34


Not only should that wanker be in jail, the sheriff should be removed from judicial office forthwith. Disgusting.

posted by paulfg42 [379 posts]
4th May 2013 - 9:10


Perhaps someone who works within the Scottish justice system may care to comment?
Or who knows how their CPS works, as it would appear that they tend to go for a lower charge to get a conviction, rather than a more serious charge and work a bit more smartly to get proper evidence and a conviction?
The sentence seems derisory, but the sentence for a lady who has lived 75 years and may have lived to receive the Queen's telegram is very final indded and can never be appealed. The law must be even handed, but the victim and their family should be respected too, and as this is a driver's second offence of "carelessness" perhaps a disqualification for a substantial period following a custodal punishment, if appropriate, with a requirement for an extended test for licence reinstatement would be more in proportion.
Whatever the judges comments, they do not seem well informed, as no-one can actually predict what would happen with/without helmet in any other way than recreate the incident using two volunteers. Wouldn't be many of them, I suspect.


posted by doc [167 posts]
4th May 2013 - 9:52


Prior to sentencing Mrs Fife's widower, John had said [...]

Have you misplaced a comma, or misunderstood 'widower'?

posted by Ham-planet [103 posts]
5th May 2013 - 10:54


With respect I disagree with Tony that the helmet part of this story is not relevant. It's relevant for the following reasons:

* It is another piece of evidence that helmet (non)usage is a significant factor in apportioning blame, despite the fact that there is no evidence which suggests that helmets can do anything except protect from superficial cuts, tears and other non-brain threatening injuries. We have "safety campaigners", many cycling clubs and online helmet campaigners to thank for this.

* It reflects a lack of experience and thought about the real dangers of cycling on the part of many officials. Helmet promotion has simultaneously conveyed the messages that cycling is dangerous and also that a piece of polystyrene is all that cyclists need to be safe. Again, we have the helmet campaigners and their friends the segregated facilities campaigners to thank for this.

The Sheriff is just echoing back the loudest voices in the cycling world and basing his judgements on the "common sense" which so often fails us.

The Scotsman has another, more detailed, piece: "The sheriff made his incendiary comments despite no expert evidence during McCourt’s four-day trial over whether a helmet could have saved Mrs Fyfe’s life.

And with the Crown Office confirming prosecutors are considering an appeal against the sentence due to its “undue leniency”, it seems likely further scrutiny could be given to the whole matter.

Away from the court, his comments have attracted widespread condemnation, especially in light of the fact he also caused controversy in 2010 when he gave the 90-year-old wife of the former Governor of the Bank of Scotland the all-clear to continue driving despite smashing her car into a cyclist"

posted by Ush [425 posts]
5th May 2013 - 16:15


McCourt had a "momentary lapse of concentration". He had a responsibility to maintain his concentration when he chose to drive a vehicle on a public highway but clearly failed to do so not only on this occasion but also on a previous one. Both of these instances resulted in loss of life and as such McCourt should face the maximum penalty permissible by law. It is not proportionate to punish this with community service and a ban. Sheriff Scott has failed to carry out his duties and if he had any decency would resign. The cycling organizations have to object strongly to these sort of decisions and encourage us cyclists to also complain in an organized and tactical manner. My sympathies to Mrs Fyfe's family whom from what I have read are very let down by the Scottish legal system.

Simm0's picture

posted by Simm0 [3 posts]
6th May 2013 - 12:30


Thanks for all your support. We have now had almost now 4,500 people write to the Lord Advocate protesting at this derisory sentence as well as wall to wall coverage in Scotland. Gary McCourt's face is so well known in Edinburgh that, I suspect he is frightened to leave the house, let alone drive again.
If you haven't already added you weight to the onslaught of letters to the Lord Advocate, please do it now. We have until 31st May to make our feelings known
I've been thinking what we need to do to make sure other drivers don't drive while banned. Thinking
Perhaps if the penalty for breaching a driving ban was life imprisonment these mindless murderers would think twice about it. I'd also have the police confiscate the cars of any drivers given a temporary or permanent driving ban although I acknowledge that that wouldn't spot them driving other people's vehicles. For those who have a temporary ban, I would add a requirement for the driver to have compulsory cycle training & provide evidence of 1,000 ridden on a bike to that they gain some understanding of what it's like not to be surrounded by air bags & a crumple zone.


posted by Aileen [10 posts]
23rd May 2013 - 12:30