HMA v DARREN ROBERT LUKE

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Brodie sentenced Darren Robert Luke to 3 years imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving. Billy Colin Casement died on 7 March 2012 as a result of injuries sustained in a collision on the Maybury Road, Edinburgh

On sentencing, Lord Brodie made the following statement in court:

“On 16 October 2013 you were convicted after trial in the High Court of contravention of section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988; that is of causing death by dangerous driving.

By virtue of that verdict you are therefore responsible for causing the death of the late Billy Colin Casement who had been the front seat passenger in the Subaru Impreza car driven by you on 7 March 2012 on Maybury Road, Edinburgh, when that car collided with two other vehicles, a Renault Clio car driven by Brian Hutton and a Peugeot Boxer van driven by Frank Ballantyne.

By their verdict the jury must be taken to have found it proved that in the course of driving north on Maybury Road in the early evening of 7 March 2012, sometime around 7.30pm, you overtook two motor cars at excessive speed, then drove at a minimum average speed of 74 mph in an area governed by a 40 mph speed limit towards the roundabout controlling the junction between Maybury Road and Maybury Drive and accelerated excessively on exiting that roundabout, lost control of your motor car, crossed on to the opposing carriageway (in what was described in evidence as a four wheel sideways slide) and collided first with the Clio motor car and then with the Boxer van. All the vehicles involved sustained extensive damage. Frank Ballantyne was injured. Billy Casement was so seriously injured that he died on the scene.

An allegation that you negotiated the roundabout at an excessive speed was deleted by the jury. On the way the case was presented by the prosecution that means that the jury were not satisfied that it had been proved that in driving round the roundabout you did so at a speed in excess of 40 mph.

The jury found your driving to have been dangerous as that expression is defined by section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. That section provides:

‘(1) … a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if …

(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.’

I should stress that no fault whatsoever attached to the drivers of the Clio car or the Boxer van. When confronted with your Subaru both these vehicles were on their own side of the road travelling at a moderate speed.

Billy Casement was 30 years old when he died. He left a wife and two young children. Your dangerous driving has therefore had the result of taking away one life. It also has caused inestimable damage to the lives of others. That is clear from the terms of the Victim Impact Statements with which I was provided from his widow and his mother. No sentence that I can impose can undo that damage.

When it comes to determining sentence, the appellate courts, both in Scotland and England, have emphasised that while the tragic consequences of causing death by dangerous driving are very important, the main consideration must be the degree of culpability of the driver as judged by the gravity of the dangerous driving involved and the surrounding circumstances. I have to follow the guidance of these higher courts and an important part of that guidance comes from the case of HMA v Noche [2011] HCJAC 108 at para [29] where the Appeal Court directed that it was appropriate in cases involving charges of causing death by dangerous driving for sentencers in Scotland to have regard to the Definitive Guideline ‘Causing of Death by Driving’ issued in July 2008 by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in England.

My starting point is to assess the seriousness of your driving by reference to the jury’s verdict. Given the deletion of the allegation negotiating the roundabout at excessive speed, I assess the level of seriousness at level 3 as that is described in the Guidelines.

I must then consider the aggravating factors over and above the death of Mr Casement. Here again, in applying what are relevant aggravating factors and mitigating factors I must have regard to what is identified by the Guidelines as amounting to aggravation and mitigation. With the Guideline therefore in mind, I would identify as aggravating factors –

  • The injuries suffered by Mr Ballantyne and the frightening experience suffered by him, and Mr and Mrs Hutton
  • A previous conviction of contravention of section 81 of the Road Traffic Act 1984 – a charge of speeding which would appear to have been of some seriousness in that it resulted in a fine of £500 and disqualification from driving for 6 months. However, that was dated in 2003 when you were just 20 years old and there are no relevant convictions since that date.

Similarly with the Guidelines in mind, the mitigating factors appear to me to be -

  • I understand Billy Casement to have been your good friend, you have described him as your best friend
  • You suffered significant physical injury on 7 March 2012 which included fractured ribs, left lung contusion, a fracture of the pelvis, a pelvic haematoma and a fractured wrist
  • On the basis of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report and the information the author of that report obtained from your GP I accept that your mental health has been adversely affected by the events of 7 March 2012. You have suffered from depression, insomnia and panic attacks. That is consistent with your demeanour in court. You appeared to be deeply upset when listening to the evidence at trial.

Despite what can be said in mitigation, in my opinion there is however no alternative to a custodial sentence in this case. The Guidelines identify a period of 3 years custody as the starting point for sentencing in a level 3 case, before consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors, with a sentencing range of between 2 and 5 years.

Having regard to the Guidelines, the various factors that I have identified, the reference from your work colleague provided on 16 October 2013, the contents of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report and what has been said on your behalf, the sentence of the court will be 3 years imprisonment from today’s date. In addition I shall disqualify you from driving or applying for a driving license for a period of 5 years and thereafter you will be required to pass the extended proficiency driving test before you can drive again.”