Story updated with quotes from Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy director at CTC - see final four paragraphs.
The family of a cyclist killed in a hit-and-run incident in May 2009 have said that they are “devastated” at the leniency of the sentence handed down to the driver involved.
Last month we reported how Debra Kelly of Welwyn Garden City had escaped being sent to prison after being convicted of causing the death by careless driving of 47-year-old businessman Kenny Lush because she was heavily pregnant.
Kelly, who had fled the scene of the accident on the A414 between Ware and Hertford after getting a lift from a stranger, turned herself in to police the following morning, claiming that she had bumped her head in the accident and was hysterical. She added that she had suffered from panic attacks in the past.
Sentencing her to 24 weeks in prison suspended for two years at St Albans Crown Court, Judge Andrew Bright QC told her: “You are expecting a baby in a few weeks. If I send you to prison there is every chance you would give birth in the mother and baby unit at Holloway Prison.”
He added: “To inflict that indignity on an innocent baby is not in the public interest, though you richly deserve to go to prison.”
The judge, however, acknowledged that “nothing I can say or any sentence I can pass will ever begin to reflect the ruin you have inflicted on the Lush family by your careless driving behind the wheel of your motor car.”
Kelly was also banned from driving for 18 months, has to take an extended test when she does return to driving, and was ordered to pay £2,500 costs.
In a statement released through the national cyclists’ organisation, CTC, Liz Dux, a solicitor at the law firm Russell Jones & Walker which represents the Lush family, said:
“The judge found that Mr. Lush did not contribute in any way to this accident, and what has made the family particularly angry is that the driver, who was the sole contributing cause of this fatal incident and who fled the scene afterwards, has not been treated more seriously by the Court.”
Ms Dux continued: “The family feels particularly aggrieved that the judge’s sole reason for suspending the sentence is the fact that Deborah Kelly is pregnant. They believe that this is not a mitigating factor for such a serious offence, which has robbed four young children of a loving father, a wife of her devoted husband and the community of a hardworking business owner.”
Conny Lush, the victim’s widow, said: “We are devastated by the lenient sentence given by the judge. Leaving the scene of a road traffic accident should be considered as heinous and dangerous a crime as drinking, taking drugs or using a mobile phone when driving. It should be placed in the highest category for sentencing and should have merited an immediate custodial sentence not a suspended sentence. Our lives will never be the same again.”
Debra Rolfe, Campaigns Coordinator for CTC - the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation, which supported the family’s claim, added: “Whatever the reasons for this tragically fatal collision, hitting a cyclist from behind in clear conditions should attract far more than an 18-month driving ban. As for leaving the scene of a crime, this is an offence that the law needs to treat a lot more seriously. The courts have once again sent out all the wrong signals by showing more sympathy to the driver than to the bereaved family of a cyclist. This is something CTC’s campaign ‘Stop SMIDSY’ (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) sets out to change.”
We spoke to Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy Director at CTC, who said: “All too often people who are convicted of bad driving offences plead not to be given the sentences merited by the standard of their driving because of the deep personal hardship they will suffer. And all too often they get let off with sentences that are an insult to the bereaved family. This gives out all the wrong signals about the seriousness of putting other people’s lives in danger on the roads.”
He continued: “There are a number of aspects to this case which concern me. One is why the Crown Prosecution Service accepted the driver’s plea of ‘causing death by careless driving’ rather than charging her with the more serious offence of ‘causing death by dangerous driving’. I’ve not seen all the evidence in the case, but driving into the back of a properly lit and brightly dressed cyclist strikes me as prima facie evidence of dangerous driving. Added to the fact that Debra Kelly then left the scene of the crime and later claimed to have been hysterical having bumped her head in the accident. This also meant there was no breath test evidence to establish whether her driving was impaired by the glass of wine, she admits to having drunk beforehand.”
“Whatever the uncertainties of the case, one thing seems clear. Regardless of whether Debra Kelly genuinely left the scene for reasons other than to avoid detection, and whatever one makes of her pregnancy, it cannot be right that someone gets just an 18-month driving ban for driving into the back of a properly lit brightly dressed cyclist. At the very least, what the court should have given is a long driving ban - if for no other reason than the protection of the public. Anything less belittles the gravity of an offence where someone’s life has been put at risk and, in this case, tragically has been taken away. This leads people to think bad driving isn’t all that serious, and its pedestrians, cyclists and their families who disproportionately suffer the resulting injustice on our roads, he added.
Mr Geffen also noted that "there is no basis for a lenient sentence for a pregnant mother in the relevant Sentencing Guidelines." (see page 5).
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.