Retired HGV driver who caused death by careless driving loses appeal against custodial sentence

Retired HGV driver who caused death by careless driving loses appeal against custodial sentence

A retired HGV driver who was given a custodial sentence for causing a death by driving without due care and attention has lost his appeal against the sentence in the High Court of Justiciary.

Ian Moorhouse pled guilty to a contravention of section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, discounted from 18 months due to his early plea.

The appeal was heard by Lord Pentland and Lord Doherty. The appellant was represented by Paterson, solicitor advocate, and the Crown by Edwards QC.

Taken a chance

On 25 February 2020, the appellant, then aged 61, was driving a heavy gas tanker around the Stirling area on routes familiar to him. Approaching a Y junction while directly behind a tractor and trailer, he did not wait for a clear view of ongoing traffic before turning across the westbound carriageway. The tanker crossed directly in front of a car being driven by Mrs B, a 39-year-old married woman with four children.

Mrs B was unable to avoid a collision and died from her injuries. She was in no way to blame for the accident, and her husband described the loss in his victim statement as “crippling” and “the worst of times” to which he could do no justice in writing. The appellant had one previous conviction for using a mobile phone while driving.

In considering the appellant’s sentence, the sheriff considered the level of the appellant’s culpability to be substantial and noted he had deliberately taken a chance when he had no need to do so. As an experienced HGV driver, he ought to have recognised the obvious potential for a collision of that type to happen and as a result it was appropriate to impose a custodial sentence. Taking everything into account, he disqualified the appellant from driving for 46 months and sentenced him to 18 months’ imprisonment as a headline sentence.

In submissions for the appellant it was noted that the appellant no longer held a HGV licence and could not drive due to health issues, but would still able to undertake an unpaid work order. He had made a terrible mistake in what was a momentary error of judgement and had displayed remorse and deep regret. He had a supportive family and a good work history. A direct alternative to custody was available. It was accepted that the offence was very serious, but in the whole circumstances the imposition of a custodial sentence was excessive and inappropriate.

Devastating consequences

Lord Pentland, delivering the opinion of the court, began: “We are unable to accept [the appellant’s] submissions. We acknowledge that the appellant was a person of generally good character, although we consider that his previous conviction for using a mobile phone while driving is a factor that should not be entirely left out of account. The present offence was, however, undoubtedly a very serious one with devastating consequences.”

He continued: “The appellant was an experienced heavy goods vehicle driver. He should have appreciated that by deciding to drive across the opposite carriageway of a major arterial road without having a proper view of oncoming traffic he was taking a wholly unjustified risk that carried with it a high probability of causing a collision with potentially fatal consequences. We consider that his standard of driving fell not far short of dangerous driving.”

On whether the headline sentence was of an appropriate length, Lord Pentland said: “We note, as did the Sheriff, that in such circumstances the Definitive Guideline issued by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales suggests that the appropriate starting point is 15 months’ custody with a range of 36 weeks to 3 years’ custody. The Guideline is a valuable cross-check, particularly in the context of an offence that applies across the United Kingdom. The headline sentence selected by the Sheriff fell within the range given in the Guideline.”

He concluded: “In our opinion, a custodial sentence was amply merited in view of the high level of culpability and the terrible consequences. A non-custodial sentence would not have met the sentencing objectives of punishment and deterrence in view of the gravity of the present offence. We are satisfied that the approach taken by the Sheriff was one that took proper account of all the relevant considerations. The sentence he imposed was not excessive.”

The appeal against sentence was therefore refused.

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