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Tougher sentences demanded against drivers who kill cyclists - May-29-12
Source: The Times - Law
Ministers are under pressure to introduce tougher penalties for motorists who kill cyclists in an attempt to deter dangerous driving and reverse a rise in the number killed on the roads.
Safety campaigners, cycling organisations, politicians and lawyers are calling for a review of sentencing guidelines. They say that stricter penalties would act as a deterrent and save lives.
The issue was highlighted at the weekend when the family of a former employee of British Cycling, the sport’s governing body, marked the first anniversary of his death on a road in Dorset. Rob Jefferies, 43, was killed when a 17-year-old drove his Renault Clio into the back of him in broad daylight on the A351 near Wareham.
The driver, Lee Cahill, had only held his licence for six months at the time of the crash but already had a speeding conviction. Cahill pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and received a 12-month community order, 200 hours of community service, an 18-month driving ban and was ordered to pay costs of £85.
British Cycling is pressing for sentencing guidelines to be reviewed in the light of this and other cases. “Outcomes like this send the wrong message out about how society values human life and how we expect people to behave on the roads,” said Martin Gibbs, British Cycling’s Policy and Legal Affairs Director.
“British Cycling has appealed to the Sentencing Council to review sentencing guidelines and we will be stepping up our work in this area.”
The call has won the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who told Mr Jefferies’s brother, Will, at a cycle hustings organised by The Times that he would use a newly-formed Sentencing Unit to monitor such cases and press the Government for action where justice appeared not to have been done.
“We’ll be working with the Mayor to make sure that promise is delivered on,” Mr Gibbs said.
Ian Austin, MP for Dudley North, Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, and Alison Seabeck, MP for Plymouth, are among those who have criticised “derisory sentences” given to drivers who kill cyclists.
Martin Porter QC, a cyclist who writes a blog, thecyclingsilk, said the legal system had a poor record of dealing with serious collisions involving cyclists. “There is no particular malevolence there but there is a cultural block which affects the dealing with cycling related incidents virtually at every level. Police do not deal with them particularly seriously,” he said.
“There seems to be an assumption on the part of the police that if a left-turning lorry crushes a cyclist, the cyclist is in the wrong.”
In 2008, a new offence of death by careless driving was introduced to give prosecutors an alternative to pressing for death by dangerous driving, which carries a higher sentence.
Campaigners welcomed the move but warned that it could lead to drivers who would previously have faced prosecution for the more serious crime being pursued for lesser charges.
Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director at CTC, a cyclists’ organisation, said: “They are now down-grading to death by careless driving. More bad driving is now being classified as just being careless and that to us is sending out all the wrong signals.”
The Ministry of Justice says that judges should decide sentencing.
“It is for the courts to decide on the appropriate sentence for an offender — and in doing so they will take into account all details of the offence, including any aggravating or mitigating circumstances,” a spokesman said.
“Sentencing guidelines are produced by the independent Sentencing Council, and the current maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving is five years’ imprisonment.”
Official figures due to be published next month are expected to show that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in Britain rose for the third consecutive year in 2011. Figures for 2010 showed that the number of cyclists killed rose 7 per cent to 111. The number of cyclists seriously injured in accidents reported to the police rose by 2 per cent in 2010 to 2,660. The rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured measured as a proportion of distance travelled also rose in 2009 and 2010.
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