Family of Bristol tandem death couple call for tougher sentences for repeat driving offenders
Petition launched and local MP to push for change but as Audrey Fyfe case and comments of senior lawyer show attitudes will need to change too
The familiy of a a Bristol couple killed while riding their tandem earlier this year are calling for tougher sentences for repeat offenders and have enlisted the support of their local MP to try to get the law changed. Their call came on the same day it was announced that the crown would appeal in the case of Audrey Fyfe whose killer was sentenced to community service for his second offence of killing a cyclist while behind the wheel of a car.
As we reported last month, the driver who killed Ross and Clare Simons, Nicholas Lovell was sentenced to 10 years and six months in jail and banned from driving for life- the maximum punishment available for the offence, but the couple's family told BBC Bristol that this was still "shockingly low" given that Lovell was a serial driving offender.
Prior to his sentencing it emerged that Lovell had been convicted 11 times of driving while disqualified after losing his licence in 1999. Lovell collided with the Simmons' tandem while trying to evade a police patrol car which had spotted him driving Cox's Citroen Picasso through Hanham.
The family have now set up an online petition justice4rossandclare.com to call for a change to sentencing guidelines when it comes to dealing with repeat offenders in such cases. Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood is backing the petition and told the BBC that he hopes to raise his attempt to get the law changed in the House of Commons next week.
"I know how many people were shocked and devastated by Ross and Clare's death," he said.
"The law on dangerous driving needs to be changed, and I intend to take this petition to the very top to ensure that there is effective justice for such a tragedy, and that dangerous and banned drivers are kept off the roads and not allowed to offend again."
At the end of last year, in response to representations from cycling organisations and other road safety bodies, Justice Minister, Helen Grant said that the government would look at the issue of sentencing guidelines in cases where drivers kill or seriously injure cyclists or other vulnerable road users. Earlier this year the All Party Cycling Group of MPs also urged a review of sentencing guidelines as part of its Get Britain Cycling Report.
That there is a wide disparity in sentences handed out for driving offences resulting in the death or serious injury of cyclists was further underlines yesterday when the Crown Office in Scotland announced that it would appeal the "unduly lenient" sentence given to Gary McCourt for causing the death by careless driving of 75 year-old Audrey Fyfe. McCourt too was a repeat offender having served a prison sentence for causing the death of another cyclist, George Dalgity in 1985. McCourt was sentenced to 300 hours community service and a five year driving ban for causing Mrs Fyfe's death.
That attitudes amongst both the police and judiciary need to change when it comes to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of incidents involving drivers and more vulnerable road users was further illustrated this week by the comments of Alistair MacDonald, leader of the North Eastern Circuit, who when speaking out against proposed reforms of the Legal Aid System said:
"The losers from this bill will be law-abiding citizens on modest incomes who defend their homes against intruders, accidentally clip a cyclist in their cars, or who are simply among the many each year accused of crimes they haven't committed.
The fact that a senior lawyers continues to regard 'clipping' a cyclist as a relatively trivial matter perhaps goes some way to explaining the sentence given to Gary McCourt who admitted to "clipping" Audrey Fyfe. At the other end of the scale Lovell case also shows how high the bar is set in terms of carnage caused for a court to hand down the maximum sentence for killing someone when behind the wheel of a car.