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Driver who killed cyclist had been checking WhatsApp messages leading up to collision

Judge describes the use of mobile phones by drivers as being like an epidemic

A man who killed a cyclist after driving into the back of him on a dark and unlit road had been reading and composing WhatsApp messages leading up to the incident, reports The Northampton Chronicle. John Michell, a 26 year old accountant, pleaded guilty to a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. He was jailed for 21 months and disqualified from driving for three years.

On the evening of January 9, 2014, 57-year-old Mark Greenwood was cycling home from where he worked at a charity called Abbeyfield in St Albans when he was hit from behind by Michell’s Volkswagen Golf. Prior to the incident, Greenwood had been seen by a number of motorists riding along the A5183 towards Redbourn. He was said to have been cycling slowly and in a straight line, near the kerb, wearing a high-vis jacket.

The court heard that in the two minutes and 21 seconds leading up to the collision, Michell had used his mobile phone to compose three messages using the mobile messaging application, WhatsApp, and had read two messages he’d received in return. The messages, described as ‘trivia’, were with a woman he’d met online earlier but had not yet met in person.

Coincidentally, the two men had lived in the same Redbourn apartment block. Michell subsequently moved to Northampton and gave up his career in accountancy. His barrister, John Dye, said he was genuinely remorseful and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the incident.

Judge Andrew Bright QC said he was satisfied the cause of the collision was that Michell had been distracted by his mobile phone and described the use of mobile phones by drivers as being like an epidemic. In handing down the sentence, he said that he had a duty to send a message that those who use mobile phones when driving could expect prison sentences if their actions resulted in loss of life.

In the wake of Greenwood’s death, St Albans Cycle Campaign repeated calls for conditions to be made safer for cyclists on Redbourn Road.

Committee member Mike Hartley said the group supported local councillors’ efforts to reduce the speed limit on the road and had also submitted a request to the county council to convert the footway into a shared pedestrian and cycle route.

Earlier this year, a driver who admitted exchanging texts with his girlfriend before his van hit and killed an 18-year-old cyclist was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving and of causing death by careless driving. The parents of the victim, Daniel Squire, subsequently called for those who text behind the wheel to be banned from driving as a matter of course.

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