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Driver given £95 fine for incident in which cyclist's back broken in four places and he almost died

"You would get a longer sentence if you nicked some Mars bars" says victim...

Magistrates in Bolton have fined a motorist £95 plus £35 costs and a £10 victim surcharge and six penalty points on his licence for an incident in which he hit and seriously injured a cyclist, his victim, John Drake labelled the sentence "disgusting".

Mr Drake whose life was saved by a quick thinking off-duty fireman who managed to clear his airways suffered a horrific catalogue of injuries in the incident last May.

His back was broken in four places he suffered a fractured skull and a brain injury resulting in memory loss, in total he had 30 broken bones - including his cheek bone, and his right ear was torn. As a result he spent six weeks in hospital, much of that time on a life support machine, and his family were twice told to say their goodbyes.

This week the driver responsible, 84-year old driver Ronald Finney  pleaded guilty in court to a charge of careless driving  (driving without due care and attention), and driving a vehicle on the road with defective eyesight. Following the incident Finney voluntarily gave up his licence and will not drive again. The maximum penalty that magistrates could have imposed is a heavy fine and/or disqualification or 7 to 9 points on the driver's licence.

Commenting on the sentence to the Bolton Evening News Mr Drake said:

The sentence does not act as a deterrent to somebody. You would get a longer sentence if you nicked some Mars bars.

“The fine isn’t a week’s pay on minimum wage. The system is dreadful.

“I would have thought he would get a suspended prison sentence or something far greater, such as a ban from driving.

“If it hadn’t been for off-duty firefighter Darren Collier at the scene, who opened my airways, I wouldn’t be here.”

Mr Drake also claimed that magistrates had passed sentence without seeing his victim impact statement which detailed the effects the incident had had on his life.

“Every day I wake up with pain in my back. My memory is worse. I can’t remember my kids growing up, I can’t remember getting married.

“I can remember being a kid, my memories are very vivid, but nothing from my teenage years. It’s upsetting.”

Last week we reported on the case of Surrey cyclist, Nigel Barclay who called for harsher sentencing for careless drivers when the teenage driver who seriously injured him,  costing him his livelihood, was given a £300 fine and four penalty points on his licence.

The issue of lenient sentencing for drivers who kill or seriously injure cyclists has long been a bone of contention for cyclists and cycling organisations. Recently all Britain's major cycling organisations backed a call by British Cycling for a Government inquiry in to the issue of sentencing guidelines and the lenient sentences often handed down by the courts to drivers who kill or injure other road users.

Last month Justice Minister, Helen Grant confirmed that she would meet with a delegation from British Cycling to discuss a review of sentencing in such cases.

The Drake and Barclay cases again highlight the two crucial issues that any sentencing review will have to address - firstly the perceived leniency of the sentencing guidelines themselves - the Bolton magistrates sentence is in line with the current guidelines for the offence - and secondly the apparent tendency of prosecuting authorities to opt for a lesser charge perhaps in the hope of gaining an easier conviction.

In the case of Mr Drake there would, on paper at least, appear to have been a case for bringing a charge of dangerous driving given that one of the criteria in the CPS charging guidelines is:

"driving when knowingly suffering from a medical or physical condition that significantly and dangerously impairs the offender's driving skills such as having an arm or leg in plaster, or impaired eyesight. It can include the failure to take prescribed medication; "

While most people, including it would seem his victim, would not think it productive to send an 84 year-old man to prison, such lenient sentencing in cases resulting in such serious injury does once again send out a damaging signal as to the value put on the lives and health of vulnerable road users by the law. It also underlines the pressing need for review and reform of sentencing guidelines in this area.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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