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

by Tony Farrelly   June 1, 2013  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

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.

9 user comments

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Mr MacDonald, you are a dangerous idiot.

posted by paulfg42 [386 posts]
1st June 2013 - 17:04

2 Likes

Perhaps if Mr. MacDonald was 'Clipped' by a vehicle he might give it a bit more respect? It's rather frightening to think that these types of idiots are still in a position of power Angry Angry I suppose wearing a short skirt means she asked for it?

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [484 posts]
1st June 2013 - 18:51

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Cannot understand why Lovell was not charged with Manslaughter. Surely that level of previous coupled with trying to evade the police at the time elevates his crime past a plain driving offence.

Secondly Alastair MacDonald is clearly stupid on a couple of accounts.

Increasing sentencing maximums would not catch out "normal" people. It is intended for serious repeat offenders. These offences are akin to murder with a car.

Killing and maiming people with vehicles needs to be taken much more seriously in this country.

"Clipping a bike" - Balls - It's running someone over. does he view "clipping" pedestrians equally as flippantly

posted by gazza_d [354 posts]
1st June 2013 - 21:13

1 Like

Totally agree gazza_d, it is puzzling that Lovell wasn't charged with manslaughter given his previous record, maybe the CPS reasoned that they were more likely to get a conviction for causing death by dangerous driving than manslaughter and also reasoned that if they did he'd get the maximum which would be more than if they got a manslaughter conviction?

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4180 posts]
1st June 2013 - 22:13

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Could I "clip" Mr MacDonald round his ear? I mean Its such a trivial thing I'm sure he wouldn't press charges if I did Thinking

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [655 posts]
2nd June 2013 - 14:00

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I don't think in this case the sentence is exceptionally lenient, 10 & 1/2 years for effectively 2 x manslaughter isn't awful.
The problem is more what led to the incident happening ie 11 x driving while disqualified - clearly not being punished harshly enough.

@rich22222

posted by rich22222 [147 posts]
2nd June 2013 - 18:18

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If the proper process of justice operates correctly Mr MacDonald that the transparency of process should clearly show that a person with no previous history of convictions or reported bad driving, or even a trail of civil claims for damage, would obviously be seen as one making a bad error of judgement in their driving behaviour, but one that may be shaped by circumstances, such as the consumption of alcohol, or outburst of temper, which in turn should shape the sentencing.

However there is clear evidence that a substantial number of road incidents are caused by a relatively small percentage of the 'driving' population, with several of the serial killers we are currently discussing (McCourt, Lopes, and now Lovell), and not forgetting the likes of Putz with a horrendous history of driving offences that still failed to get his vocational licence revoked by the Traffic Commissioner (perhaps an easier move than a driving ban but one that removes such a dangerous driver from being in control (sic) of a large goods vehicle.

Let's give this campaign the momentum it deserves. First and hopefully fast to deliver is a call for clear formal notification from the Courts to the Traffic Commissioners whenever a vocational licence holder is convicted of any driving offence, and perhaps also for a number of other crimimal offences - the evidence suggesting that those who have little regard for motoring law have little regard for other laws of the land. This would certainly make a few of the rogue LGV and PCV drivers, and operators, consider their position on pushing beyond the limits.

Sorting out the sentencing is another matter. Banging up offenders in prisons is of limited use and costly, although for killing, especially with the premeditation of driving when unfit to do so does deserve a custodial term.

The detail remains that truly effective ban on driving is something we have a clear need to address, given that so many of the killers have been driving whilst already banned or without even holding a driving licence. Modern electronics and position monitoring might go some way towards this. Perhaps any driving ban might eventually be accompanied by a requirement for the banned individual to carry a device which logs their position throughout the day and either records or sends this back to a recording point. Monitoring the movements should allow the journeys made on foot (<4mph), or cycle, or by scheduled public transport to be clearly identified, leaving other journeys made by car, where the speeds can be checked against the posted speed limmits, and the proof of another person driving can be required. It might be appropriate to let the bereaved family have an overview of this monitoring to ensure that the closest scrutiny of the effectiveness of the driving ban is ensured.

With one driver having 30 penalty points, yet no automatic loss of licence we also have to question the thinking of those enforcing the law. Many people cannot hold a driving licence and thus have to get others to drive for them, and the clear result for racking up 12 penalty points is that you will have to arrange for someone else to do the driving if you need to make a journey with a private car, or other vehicle. The number of drivers who the Courts have allowed to carry on driving with a total ban is staggering and surely can be trimmed by a review of the 'mitigating factors' (AKA excuses to get off the hook)

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [537 posts]
2nd June 2013 - 19:07

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I wonder if Alistair MacDonald also advocates leniency on other minor infringements, like stabbing someone 'just a bit' or shooting someone 'only slightly'? Just think of all the law abiding citizens who are currently victimised by the justice system for really hardly burgling someone at all, they are the real losers here.

posted by qwerky [165 posts]
3rd June 2013 - 10:54

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I sent Mr. McDonald an email:

Dear Mr. McDonald

I am contacting you because of your flippant throwaway comment regards ‘Clipping of Cyclists’ made during your speech about reforms. No doubt others have contacted you but I want an explanation from you as to how you think that clipping a cyclist is not of any great concern? I also call on you to publicly address this matter with utmost expedience.

Surely if you are close enough to clip a cyclist then you are driving in contravention of the Highway Code regarding safe overtaking? By your statement you are, effectively, condoning dangerous driving, reckless endangerment or the contravention of numerous other laws and for someone, especially in the position you are in, to make such a statement is reprehensible.

Purely because a person chooses to ride a bicycle does in no way diminish their right to get from A to B in safety! Might I suggest that you bear that in mind in future and I expectantly await your reply?

Regards

Lets see if he answers it?

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [484 posts]
4th June 2013 - 17:32

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