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“Arrogant” speeding driver with drugs and alcohol in his system avoids jail for killing cyclist, as prosecutor says incident was “just below” dangerous driving threshold

Harry Bennett, who was driving at up to 51mph in a 30mph zone when he struck 77-year-old Geoffrey Dean, was given a suspended sentence and banned from driving for three years

A motorist who killed a cyclist while speeding at up to 51mph in a 30mph zone, and who was found to have traces of ketamine, cocaine, and alcohol in his system at the time of the fatal collision, has been handed a suspended prison sentence and banned from driving for three years, after a prosecutor described his standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for dangerous driving.

Harry Bennett, who had passed his driving test just two weeks before killing cyclist Geoffrey Dean in June 2021, told police that he had not seen the 77-year-old on the road – despite passing him while briefly travelling in the opposite direction – and that he had been in a rush to get home from a barbecue following a “long day”.

Mr Dean was cycling home from his design office in Bideford, north Devon, at round 6pm on 4 June 2021 when he was struck from behind by a BMW driven by Bennett, throwing him in the air and over the roof of the car. After 40 minutes of life support treatment, he died at the scene from multiple injuries.

Bennett, who crashed into a wall after losing control of his vehicle following the collision, admitted causing death by driving without due care and attention at Exeter Crown Court, Devon Live reports.

“For f***’s sake, prison sentence here I come”

According to prosecutor Herc Ashworth, the 24-year-old motorist had attended a barbecue with friends at Kenwith Valley Nature Reserve on the day of the fatal collision.

After drinking two bottles of beer at the barbecue, he left at 6pm, initially driving in the wrong direction, during which time he passed Mr Dean riding on the other side of the road. After turning his car to head north along Northam Road, CCTV footage captured Bennett accelerating over speed bumps above the road’s 30mph limit, and one witness said she saw the motorist speeding shortly before the collision.

A forensic collision investigator also established that as the road turned to the right, Bennett – travelling at between 43 and 51mph – potentially understeered, running wide and hitting the kerb with his wheel.

While there were no witnesses to the crash, analysis of the damage revealed that Bennett hit Mr Dean almost directly from behind, sending him onto and over the bonnet, windscreen, and roof of the car.

There was no indication the driver applied the brakes before the crash, and Bennett later told police that he “did not see” the cyclist, despite the court hearing that the road conditions were good and it was a dry, sunny day.

> 88-year-old motorist avoids jail after causing the death of a cyclist who she hit “without noticing”

After crashing his car into a wall a short distance from the collision, Bennett remained at the scene, where he told police officers: “For f***’s sake, prison sentence here I come.”

A roadside breathalyser test produced a reading of 23mg of alcohol per 100ml of breath, below the 35mg limit, while Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

At Exeter Crown Court, after Bennett admitted causing death by driving without due care and attention, Mr Ashworth described the motorist’s standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

Meanwhile, Judge David Evans said Bennett’s decision to drive at “excess speed” was the result of “arrogant over-confidence”.

“Far too many young people, especially young males, at one time or another make the woeful choice to drive at excess speed to get to a destination as soon as they can,” Evans said.

“In doing so they show a disregard for the obvious risks of driving at speed and it is often coupled with an arrogant over-confidence that it won’t be them that incurs the risks.”

> Drug driver who almost hit cyclist during 87mph police chase avoids jail

The judge told Bennett that he should have been aware of Mr Dean’s presence on the road having passed him while driving in the opposite direction.

Evans also noted that the drugs in the driver’s system may have impaired his ability to a degree, but that they were secondary to the “deliberate” decision to speed.

“As you admitted you were rushing to get home,” he said. “That is the decision that led to Mr Dean’s death. You were driving at greatly excessive speed for that stretch of road and for that bend.”

He sentenced Bennett to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered him to undertake 300 hours of unpaid work and rehabilitation days without probation. The 24-year-old was also banned from driving for three years.

“Left a huge void in our lives”

In a statement read to the court, Mr Dean’s son Jeremy described his father as “an extremely kind and caring man” with an interest in helping people.

“His sudden and tragic loss has left a huge void in our lives and will never be replaced. He was the go-to person for advice if ever there was a problem and always knew what to do,” he said.

An engineer and production design manager, Mr Dean established his own design office in Bideford, where had been working late on the day of his death due to a phone call with a Dutch office. His son Jeremy also noted that he was an “ingenious engineer” who was devoted to his wife and family, and loved bikes, sailing, and travelling.

The family say they are struggling to understand what happened on the day he was killed, noting that he regularly cycled that route and was safety conscious.

Remembering advice his father would give him, Jeremy concluded: “The people who succeed in life are those who overcome setbacks and concentrate on the future. Keep smiling.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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42 comments

Avatar
JN35000 | 2 months ago
0 likes

The journalist seems to have mixed up his milligrams and his micrograms. The limit in England and Wales is 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath not 35mg.

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mark1a replied to JN35000 | 2 months ago
1 like
JN35000 wrote:

The journalist seems to have mixed up his milligrams and his micrograms. The limit in England and Wales is 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath not 35mg.

Happens frequently here. 

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OldRidgeback | 3 months ago
4 likes

Just appalling for what happened and the light sentence the driver received....

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eburtthebike | 3 months ago
5 likes

Coincidentally, the Scots have just issued new guidance about Causing death by dangerous driving.   https://www.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/media/2405/statutory-offenc...

Including:

"8. The seriousness of an offence is determined by two things: the culpability of the offender and the harm caused.......

I'm sure Westminster will catch up in oooooooh, probably less than 50 years.

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mattw replied to eburtthebike | 3 months ago
1 like

That's been the basic approach since I started reading sentencing guidelines.

I think the Scotties are behind on death by driving offences.

Perhaps they've been spending too much time on naked rambling !

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eburtthebike replied to mattw | 3 months ago
1 like
mattw wrote:

That's been the basic approach since I started reading sentencing guidelines.

I beg to differ: there are innumerable cases of drivers causing death where that death is not considered relevant in sentencing.

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Spammercial | 3 months ago
0 likes

C'mon...you drink and drive...you use cocaine...you are the best customer for today's system...you can't be jailed...you are a money maker...for them....God bless cocaine and alcohol

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Owd Big 'Ead | 3 months ago
11 likes

Another arsehole in a car gets away with it yet again.
Absolutely tragic.
The law is an ass.
Everyone from the judge through to the CPS should hang their heads in shame.
Utter wankers!

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Cycloid | 3 months ago
1 like

I think every cyclist will condemn this outcome, and will be thinking of the relatives and friends who must feel totaly let down by the justice system.

BUT ---

Road CC bloggers have more or less consigned the HiViz and Helmet debate to the filing cabinet. When they feature on the blog there a "here we go again" groan goes up.

Should we be doing the same with derisory sentencing? We know this is going to happen again, and again. Discussing it on an introverted blog will not change the situation. Is any group actively campaigning on this topic?

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chrisonabike replied to Cycloid | 3 months ago
5 likes
Cycloid wrote:

BUT ---

Road CC bloggers have more or less consigned the HiViz and Helmet debate to the filing cabinet. When they feature on the blog there a "here we go again" groan goes up.

Should we be doing the same with derisory sentencing? We know this is going to happen again, and again. Discussing it on an introverted blog will not change the situation. Is any group actively campaigning on this topic?

What irks me is that they continue to bang on fruitlessly about riding bicycles on the roads, whereas everyone has decided it's way better just to drive.

Surely they should just stick to talking about cyclocross, mtb and gear?

I think road.cc is a news / reviews and comment website and not a campaigning organisation.

Your go-to campaigners would be RoadPeace (effective sentencing but much more), Cycling UK (asking about specific issues but also pushing on the wider issue of road law) and many more (e.g. probably Living Streets although I know less about them and don't see a specific entry under their campaigns).

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Cycloid replied to chrisonabike | 3 months ago
1 like

 

"I think road.cc is a news / reviews and comment website and not a campaigning organisation."

That was implicit in my comment . "Driver avoids jail for killing cyclist" is no longer news. Similarly HiViz and Helmets are no longer newsworthy, but ****s like Nick Freeman, Sycophantic Politicians and Motoring Organisations like to keep them on the agenda.

I will check out Road Peace, but I have not been impressed with the performance  Cyclng UK in this area.

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chrisonabike replied to Cycloid | 3 months ago
2 likes

I don't blame anyone ... except the current and previous governments (kicking the review of road law into the long grass), our former selves and ancestors (for going down the path towards a transport monoculture and motor dependence) and certain politicians in the past (for conspiring with the motor industry and very particular interests and pushing it on the public to the exclusion of other solutions to our transport wants).

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espressodan | 3 months ago
9 likes

How on earth can any threshold for dangerous driving not be outcome based. I mean, fair enough if a driver is stopped before harm is caused, I understand that the law requires some threshold, but in this case a person was killed by the driver as a result of their impairment and lack of judged.

How on earth can that not meet a threshold for dangerous driving.

That's assenine. An absolute travesty that cyclists continue to be treated as inanimate statistics by the law rather than people with lives.

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Muddy Ford | 3 months ago
8 likes

Send this to Matthew Briggs

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jaymack | 3 months ago
4 likes

I usually stand up for Prosecutors. While I can only assume that the Crown's observations were based upon published guidance I am both astonished and appalled.

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eburtthebike | 3 months ago
15 likes

Mr Ashworth described the motorist’s standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for the more serious offence of dangerous driving.

Someone died: it was dangerous.

I hope someone has sent this to Matthew Briggs and asked him how the all powerful cycling lobby not only allow the slaughter of cyclists, but allow the drivers who kill them to escape prison, unlike Alliston, who was arguably less culpable.

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cmedred replied to eburtthebike | 3 months ago
10 likes

It is an amazing difference in sentences, isn't it? Motonormativity in action.

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dubwise | 3 months ago
11 likes

No doubt Matthew Briggs welcomes this judgement.  One less scumbag cyclist on the road.

#Waronmotorists

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Rendel Harris | 3 months ago
27 likes

If the offence was "just below" the threshold for death by dangerous driving that must mean it was at the absolute top of the category of death by driving without due care, the maximum sentence for which is five years' imprisonment, so the logic of giving him a sentence less than a third of that and then suspending it beggars belief.

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brooksby | 3 months ago
13 likes
Quote:

a prosecutor described his standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for dangerous driving

Erm... 

Quote:

A motorist who killed a cyclist while speeding at up to 51mph in a 30mph zone, and who was found to have traces of ketamine, cocaine, and alcohol in his system at the time of the fatal collision

 

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 3 months ago
17 likes
brooksby wrote:
Quote:

a prosecutor described his standard of driving as “just below” the threshold for dangerous driving

Erm... 

Quote:

A motorist who killed a cyclist while speeding at up to 51mph in a 30mph zone, and who was found to have traces of ketamine, cocaine, and alcohol in his system at the time of the fatal collision

I'm struggling to think of the standard that the prosecutor believes would be dangerous driving.

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andystow replied to hawkinspeter | 3 months ago
17 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

I'm struggling to think of the standard that the prosecutor believes would be dangerous driving.

The same, but he kills a driver instead of a cyclist.

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ROOTminus1 replied to brooksby | 3 months ago
6 likes
Quote:

Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

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the little onion replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
2 likes
ROOTminus1 wrote:
Quote:

Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

 

It's not a legal limit as such, it is a minimum threshold of detectability. I.e. if you test above that limit, it is beyond reasonable doubt that you took those drugs willingly. If below, then it has a higher probability of being down to sampling problems or similar.

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mark1a replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
3 likes
ROOTminus1 wrote:
Quote:

Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

I would suggest that there has to be a lower threshold for certain substances, for example, you would likely fail a urine test for opiates (if there was zero tolerance) the day after eating a sandwich or roll with poppy seeds on/in it.

 

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NOtotheEU replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
3 likes

We have automatic drug tests at work whenever there is an accident or incident (even as minor as cutting your finger on a pallet!) with zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol. Any positive test results in suspension until more detailed tests are done and poppy seeds or co codamol regularly gets someone a week off with pay.

Avatar
espressodan replied to NOtotheEU | 3 months ago
6 likes

If driving incidents were treated like workplace incidents, half the country would have been removed from driving duties years ago.

Thank the car industry for the normalisation of forgiveness of dangerous driving and deliberately making large, aggressive, over powered cars sexy and appealing to less experienced drivers.

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belugabob replied to mark1a | 3 months ago
0 likes
mark1a wrote:
ROOTminus1 wrote:
Quote:

Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

I would suggest that there has to be a lower threshold for certain substances, for example, you would likely fail a urine test for opiates (if there was zero tolerance) the day after eating a sandwich or roll with poppy seeds on/in it.

 

But, in this case the defendant admitted taking ketamine, so any doubt is removed, surely?

Avatar
mark1a replied to belugabob | 3 months ago
2 likes
belugabob wrote:
mark1a wrote:
ROOTminus1 wrote:
Quote:

Bennett also told police that he had taken ketamine at 4am that morning. Traces of both that drug and cocaine were found in his system, again below the legal limit.

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

I would suggest that there has to be a lower threshold for certain substances, for example, you would likely fail a urine test for opiates (if there was zero tolerance) the day after eating a sandwich or roll with poppy seeds on/in it.

 

But, in this case the defendant admitted taking ketamine, so any doubt is removed, surely?

I was answering the specific question regarding how and why the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances (as asked by ROOTminus1), rather than whether it should or shouldn't be applied in this specific case.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to ROOTminus1 | 3 months ago
0 likes
ROOTminus1 wrote:

I don't understand how the law justifies a legal limit on illegal substances

The tests aren't perfect and I think they test for the metabolites (if that's the right term) of consuming drugs which can provide a false positive (e.g. poppy seeds). There's also the possibility that someone innocently encounters illegal substances from the environment such as cocaine on bank notes or cannabis in Bristol air.

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