Texting driver who killed cyclist fails in appeal to have sentence reduced

Cycling UK urges government to close "exceptional hardship loophole" that allowed Christopher Gard to keep driving...

A driver who was jailed for nine years after he killed a cyclist while texting at the wheel has failed to have the sentence overturned today at the Court of Appeal.

Christopher Gard was sentenced last September for causing the death of cyclist Lee Martin, who had been taking part in a time trial near Farnham, Hampshire in August 2015.

His trial heard that Gard had a string of convictions for mobile phone use while driving, and that after the collision that claimed Mr Martin’s life he attempted to delete text messages he had been sending a friend to arrange a dog walk.

Six weeks prior to the fatal crash, he had persuaded magistrates to let him keep his driving licence when he appeared before them on yet another charge of driving while illegally using a mobile phone.

Reacting to today’s news that Gard’s appeal had been unsuccessful, Duncan Dollimore, senior road safety and legal officer at the charity Cycling UK called for the government to close the loophole that allows drivers to keep their licences by pleading “exceptional hardship.”

He said: “Christopher Gard appealed his nine year prison term because he thought he was treated too harshly, and his sentence was excessive. As many families of other victims of road crashes will know however, Lee Martin’s family’s sentence will last a lifetime.

“Whilst the Court of Appeal has reviewed and agreed with the original sentence, it is a tragedy that nobody will review the earlier decision which allowed Gard to continue driving with six previous convictions for driving while using his mobile phone.

“The exceptional hardship loophole, and the reluctance of the courts to take people off the road before they destroy the lives of others, must be reviewed urgently. Cycling UK has repeatedly asked the Ministry of Justice to look at this within their review of motoring offences and penalties, but so far we have been ignored.”

He added: “If Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss won’t listen to us, she should heed the worlds of Lee’s brother Darrell, who reminded the Daily Mail yesterday that ‘driving is not a right, it’s a privilege’. That means looking again at more frequent and longer disqualifications, not just the length of the prison sentence in the worst cases.”

After his brother’s killer, who has also been banned from driving for 14 and a half years, was sentenced in September, Mr Martin said the courts could have prevented Gard from driving earlier.

He said: "There were opportunities to stop the man from driving around. Just six weeks before he had persuaded a magistrate not to take his licence away and promised to lock his phone in the boot."

He added: "The text message – think about how inane this is – it was about meeting his mate later and taking his dog for a walk. That's what killed my brother."

> Number of drivers fined for using mobile phone plummets

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.

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