Suspended sentence for driver who used camper van "as a weapon" to ram cyclist in road rage attack
"Anyone using a vehicle as a weapon for whatever reason deserves a custodial sentence and you are going to get one" … but he doesn't
A driver who, in the words of the trial judge used his camper van "as a weapon" to ram a cyclist in a road rage attack which only by matter of "luck than judgement" didn't kill him has been given a suspended three month prison sentence, banned from driving for a year and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work.
The Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence on a charge of attempted grievous bodily harm and graphic designer Alistair Burnell pleaded guilty of a charge of dangerous driving at Hull Crown court for a road rage attack last year in which cyclist, Alan Smith suffered abrasions to his hips, ankles and elbow and grazes to his head. Trial judge Judge Michael Mettyear, told Burnell: "You could have killed him and you would have been be going to prison for a some time. "It was more through luck than judgment that he was not injured more seriously."
The sentence, and the seeming reluctance of the prosecuting authority to press a more serious charge will add further fuel to recent calls for a review of sentencing guidelines for incidents in which drivers kill or injure vulnerable road users.
On Friday, the issue was again brought in to sharp focus by the new that the Crown Office in Scotland was to appeal against the "unduly lenient" sentence handed down the motorist who killed 75 year old Audrey Fyfe - he was sentenced to 300 hours community service and a five year driving ban for "clipping" Mrs Fyfe with his car. The fact that she was the second cyclist he had killed in 25 years was not deemed to be an aggravating factor by the trial judge Sheriff James Scott.
On Saturday the family of Ross and Clare Simons launched an online petition calling for tougher sentences for repeat offending drivers - Ross and Clare were killed by Nicholas Lovell in January this year while riding their tandem. At his trial it emerged that Lovell had 11 previous convictions for driving while disqualified. While Lovell was given the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving - many will wonder why he did not face the more serious charge of manslaughter.
Today (Tuesday) CTC, the national cyclist's organisation launches it's Road Justice Campaign - which aims to press police and prosecutors to investigate incidents in which cyclists are injured more thoroughly and to prosecute them more rigourously.
Given the tenor of the remarks from both the prosecution and Judge Mettyear there will no doubt be frustration amongst cycle campaigners that Burnell's sentence was not harsher.
Hull Crown Court was told the the incident developed after Burnell drove his van too close to Mr Smith, who banged on the side by way of warning. Words were exchanged and then the cyclist rode on, fearing - as the Hull Daily Mail reports - that the situation was going to escalate. After a short distance though he felt a shunt from behind, lost control of his bicycle and fell to the ground.
Burnell's barrister, Gurdial Singh, said to Judge Mettyear: "The use of a vehicle in this way clearly crosses the custody threshold but I seek to persuade you to suspend the sentence."
In his pre-sentence remarks Judge Mettyear said: "You were driving this vehicle down a road and the cyclist was clearly concerned about the closeness to him that you got your van.
"If he could bang on the side of your van, you were too close.
"That was not the worst of it. You had heated words. You had words and he was telling you what you had done and you both had an altercation and you swerved at him.
"Anyone using a vehicle as a weapon for whatever reason deserves a custodial sentence and you are going to get one."
He then went on to suspend the sentence.
Two particular aspects of this case are likely to frustrate many in the cycling community about this case is that despite the tenor of the judge's remarks the sentence for using a van "as a weapon" was still relatively light; and secondly. and perhaps more importantly despite the prosecution contending that Burnell had used his vehicle as a weapon with which he could have killed - he was charged with a driving offence rather than a more serious one of causing bodily harm or intending to cause harm.
It is worth asking what the charge and what the outcome would have been had this altercation taken place in a bar and instead of a camper van the "weapon" involved had been a beer bottle or a glass?