Judge: driver's lapse of concentration that killed veteran cyclist 'could have happened to anyone'

Driver spared jail because he was distracted 'for a split second' by lorry coming the other way

by Sarah Barth   June 23, 2013  

Justice (Lonpicman, Wikimedia Commons)

A driver was spared jail after hitting and killing a 75-year-old cyclist because, the judge said, his 'lapse of concentration' could have happened to anyone.

Peter Barraclough, 30, from East Cowton, admitted a charge of death by careless driving, and said that he had momentarily taken his eyes off the road to look at a lorry coming the other way on the A19 in Thirsk last August.

He hit and killed Leonard Grayson, 75, who was taking part in a 100-mile time trial, but it wasn't until he stopped that he realised he hadn't just hit a bird.

Grayson was 83 miles into the time trial, which he had completed at an average speed of 20mph - an indication of his level of skill as a rider.

According to the Northern Echo, defence barrister, Ian West, told Teesside Crown Court that it was a case of "there but for the grace of God go I", adding: "It's the sort of accident that could happen to anybody".

Police accident investigators said Barraclough would have seen Mr Grayson for at least nine seconds, but the driver admitted he had been looking at a low loader lorry on the opposite carriageway just before the collision.

Witness reports said Barraclough was heard to say at the roadside: "It was a split-second thing. I'm going to jail". He added in a police interview that he had seen signs warning motorists of cyclists taking part in the time trial.

Judge Peter Bowers said Barraclough was a "decent", "outstanding" man, but added his driving fell "substantially below what was acceptable."

He also said that Mr Grayson was "one of the best top veterans in this country." He added: "It is clearly a devastating life-shattering event for his family.

"There are always two tragedies in cases like this. By far the greatest is the victim of this."

Barraclough was given a five-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, ordered to do 250 hours of unpaid work, and banned from driving for 18 months.

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 underlined last month 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 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.

 

27 user comments

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Very poor comments from the Judge.

According to the police Barraclough would have been able to see the cyclist for 'at least' 9 seconds before the collision. And he admitted he had seen the signs indicating the event was taking place.

So hardly a 'momentary lapse' of concentration.

The sentence seems a bit light, a suspended prison sentence and a driving ban for just 18 months. Not enough.

Another example of the courts favouring motorists, even when the evidence is clear.

posted by seanbolton [139 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 8:20

10 Likes

If you kill using a vehicle, you should receive a mandatory life-time ban from driving again. It doesn't matter why or what the details of the case were.

Driving is a privilege, extend by license. If you kill someone while licensed, you should never be able to have the privilege again. Because you've proven yourself unworthy of it, and a danger to others.

It might concentrate a few minds, too....

posted by Not KOM [79 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 9:12

13 Likes

As well as working ourselves into a frenzy over the badly judged driving and 'shit happens' judge comments, lets take a minute to admire Grayson's stamina. 83 miles @20mph? Wowzers, I want to do that when I'm 75.

Also at least the driver did everything right after the accident - admitted the charge, accepted it was worthy of prison, etc. it sounds like he'd lined up an overtake without quite having enough room, and the worst happened. If it was a busy road (A19? sounds like it) then it may have been dangerous to brake quickly to 20mph, and the lanes might be big enough to think you can go3 abreast. I'm just guessing.

I hate riding on fast A roads in any case.

posted by Whirlio [13 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 9:32

8 Likes

Let's say I poison a few people because I have a momentary lapse of concentration in the kitchen and pregnant lady and old fella die. Criminal charge and a fairly tough sentence will follow, you can be sure of that. Thinking

posted by mrchrispy [293 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 9:34

10 Likes

? did the judge actually repeat the words of the defence barrister ? or is the headline wrong ?

anyhow very sad sounds like was a great guy and drivers need to learn that life deserves respect - I'm convinced most driver don't believe cyclists are allowed on dual carriageways and absolutely don't know how to deal with them safely
at least the dangerous driving charge stuck and the driver was disqualified probably not a sufficient deterrent to say to others what the impact of bad driving can be - maybe a quality tv documentary (if that is possible) with a few families of bereaved and a few drivers talking about the impact on their lives is needed - need a cultural change that says driving and not respecting other road users is a blight

posted by antigee [153 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 9:48

8 Likes

"then it may have been dangerous to brake quickly to 20mph"

in a car with abs and airbags? - one thing that drivers could learn is that the worst option is to hit the cyclist or pedestrian in these circumstances - hitting other vehicles will be probably be an accident all the vehicle occupants will walk away from

posted by antigee [153 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 9:51

9 Likes

Whirlio wrote:
If it was a busy road (A19? sounds like it) then it may have been dangerous to brake quickly to 20mph, and the lanes might be big enough to think you can go3 abreast. I'm just guessing.

I hate riding on fast A roads in any case.

This bit of road is a dual carriageway...

posted by fatty [73 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 10:09

5 Likes

ah right, I take it all back. Glancing over at basically another road and hitting a cyclist is terrible. Thanks for pointing that out fatty.

posted by Whirlio [13 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 11:57

11 Likes

I wonder if Mr. West would use such terms had it been a member of his family? Let’s hope, for his sake, it never happens to him. Disgraceful Angry

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [464 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 12:05

10 Likes

So, how and who do you complain to about unduly lacx sentences?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1124 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 12:34

6 Likes

Apparently your MP for the worth that is. By all accounts retribution is frowned upon unless you kill them with your car then it is by the grace of God. Smile

Disclaimer: there are other, imaginary, celestial deities that you can worship if you are so inclined. Yawn

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [464 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 12:51

10 Likes

Not KOM wrote:
If you kill using a vehicle, you should receive a mandatory life-time ban from driving again. It doesn't matter why or what the details of the case were.

Driving is a privilege, extend by license. If you kill someone while licensed, you should never be able to have the privilege again. Because you've proven yourself unworthy of it, and a danger to others.

It might concentrate a few minds, too....

That tends to be my view too.

I'm not in favour of banging up otherwise law-abiding people because of driving offences committed without intent.

I don't see what purpose it serves - prison is for the protection of society and at least theoretically for rehabilitation. Those goals can be achieved by lengthy or lifetime driving bans.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [530 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 13:49

8 Likes

abudhabiChris wrote:

I don't see what purpose it serves - prison is for the protection of society and at least theoretically for rehabilitation. Those goals can be achieved by lengthy or lifetime driving bans.

It would send a message that killing people through careless driving will be treated seriously by the authorities. That would focus the minds of drivers.

Prison serves as a punishment and deterrent as well as rehabilitation. Lifetime ban should be automatic in any case.

As it is, his punishment is effectively the same as some irresponsible idiot driving without insurance, or excessively speeding. Hardly the same category of offence as causing somebody's death.

posted by 700c [556 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 15:24

6 Likes

9 second views of cyclists from a car ...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8pX52v_yNA&feature=youtu.be&t=40s

Does he really claim to be looking at the other carriageway for that long?

posted by simon F [994 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 15:35

6 Likes

"There are always two tragedies in cases like this. By far the greatest is the victim of this." -- Judge Peter Bowers.

Say what you like about the judge, but it is obvious that he has had long, effective legal training, and moreoever is obviously a man of profound philosphical and spiritual insight.

posted by Ush [403 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 17:17

8 Likes

Until these senile old bast**ds are pensioned off, the sooner we will see some positive improvement to road safety for everyone not just those using a car, and not just cyclists.

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [219 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 20:16

8 Likes

Good link Simon F. I can only guess that this judge was driving the 4x4/people carrier thing. He should be forced to watch the clip...

This whole story is difficult to digest and a very sad state of affairs for our judicial system. A dreadful loss for the friends and family of Leonard Grayson, made even worse by the farcical response of the courts.

posted by fatty [73 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 20:16

12 Likes

Do what I do and turn it into "pedestrian killed by driver after lapse of concentration". Do you think the judge would be saying it could've happened to anyone? No way.

Even better - turn it into "pedestrian killed by cyclist after lapse of concentration" and I guarantee you the nation would be up in arms.

posted by nod [61 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 21:58

9 Likes

I'm lost for words, how sad.

posted by Cyclic [30 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 22:28

8 Likes

The judge has form, if you'll pardon the phrase, for controversial decisions and thought-provoking phrasing of his judicial opinion. Precisely what thoughts they might provoke is something else entirely.

Judge Peter Bowers. Google is not your friend.

posted by Argos74 [295 posts]
23rd June 2013 - 23:05

12 Likes

It could have happened to anyone.

Any one of us - no matter what we do - could be hit from behind by someone who's driving negligently.

That is the correct end of the stick I've got there, isn't it? *sigh* Plain Face

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [380 posts]
24th June 2013 - 8:32

6 Likes

This "I didn't see them" stuff is such guff. This particular driver had *9* seconds to see the cyclist - no way can a lapse of concentration explain that.

I have a strong suspicion that many of these "I was distracted / blinded by the sun" excuses from drivers who mow down cyclists in front of them actually are cases where the driver deliberately decided to pass the rider without moving out (i.e. close pass) and misjudged it.

posted by Paul J [628 posts]
24th June 2013 - 8:48

11 Likes

mrmo wrote:
So, how and who do you complain to about unduly lacx sentences?

The Attorney General, and within two weeks of sentencing.

Anyone can complain about an unduly lenient sentence and they will review it. This is what has happened recently with a couple of cases.

I find it surprising that organisations such as BC & CTC do not have a system in place for people to register their discontent in such cases that are automatically forwarded to the AG. If there were more instances of outrage at lenient sentencing in cases such as this happening, and in a focused manner, then the judiciary would be compelled to review sentencing guidelines.

[edit to add]

It would appear that I am wrong on a couple of counts:

* It can only be made against cases heard in Crown Courts

* The time to appeal lenient sentencing is 28 days

* It can only be made against cases of:

Quote:
murder
rape
robbery
child sex crimes and child cruelty
some serious fraud
some serious drug crimes
crimes committed because of the victim’s race or religion

[Sources:]
https://www.gov.uk/complain-about-low-crown-court-sentence
http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/fact_sheets/unduly_lenient_sentences/

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [532 posts]
24th June 2013 - 11:23

8 Likes

A terrible tragedy.

The A19 is essentially a two-lane motorway and no place for anyone to be riding a bike, no matter how experienced. I use the road regularly and the average speed on this stretch is probably over 70mph. Why you would want to cycle on it, less so organise a TT on it, is beyond me.

posted by newtonk [29 posts]
24th June 2013 - 11:46

6 Likes

"This "I didn't see them" stuff is such guff."

It's beyond comprehension that the phrase often gets used as some sort of defence. The fact that you didn't see someone or something that you drove into is the bloody problem.

"I have a strong suspicion that many of these "I was distracted / blinded by the sun" excuses..."

I don't have the exact ones to hand, but I noticed one or two fishy-looking defences recently that suggested that "sun in my eyes" is now seen as a relatively safe defence by motoring lawyers.

"Why you would want to cycle on it, less so organise a TT on it, is beyond me."

There are TTs regularly held on the A3 (which is also basically a motorway) and I've driven past them a lot. They're held when the road is relatively quiet (ie after evening rush hour) and are heavily signposted. Under those premises, it seems pretty safe overall. I'd certainly never cycle on that road as a single cyclist and/or when busy, though: it's a lethal environment.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [380 posts]
24th June 2013 - 12:01

8 Likes

I think the implication of this is that normal people cannot be considered safe enough to drive a car. So logically this suggests that we should make the driving licence tough enough to reflect the skills needed to drive a car without running the risk of killing someone. ...or is the implication that its quite normal and acceptable to drive for longer than 9 seconds without being able to see the road? Then the highway code needs considerably longer stopping distances factored in, and probably the roads need much slower speed limits to reflect the lack of attention that courts consider to be acceptable.

posted by joncrel [8 posts]
24th June 2013 - 20:06

7 Likes

So every level of the justice system is anti cyclist then.

tired old fart

posted by tired old fart [82 posts]
24th March 2014 - 12:19

4 Likes