HMA v ERLAND FLAWS

At the High Court in Livingston Judge Beckett sentenced Erland Flaws to five years in prison after he was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving in Orkney.

On sentencing Judge Beckett made the following statement in court:

“The jury found you guilty of causing the deaths of Moira Robina Towers and Ann Stanger, by dangerous driving and I must sentence you on that basis.

Whilst I learn from the Criminal Justice Social Work Report that you continue to deny your guilt, I accept that you have expressed and felt remorse for the consequences of the accident in which you were involved.  However, I also recall that when you gave evidence, the greater part of your concern seemed to relate to the consequences that you have suffered.

I take account of all of the information in the report. I acknowledge that you are someone with a consistent employment history. I take into account all of the points made on your behalf by Mr Graham this morning. I accept that this case has been weighing on you for some time. I give weight to the fact that you yourself were badly injured in the accident and that you required to undergo surgery and were kept in hospital for two weeks.

I recognise that you have not previously been sent to prison and that prison will be daunting and difficult for you.

However, you brought all of this on yourself when you chose to drive at excessive speed at night towards a blind summit and a junction which presented hazards  obvious to anyone who knew the road, as you did. The approach to the junction was signposted as a place where speed should be reduced. Having regard to the evidence in the trial, I am not convinced that you did reduce your speed until it was far too late.

There was evidence that a car immediately to the east of the Hatston Park junction would be visible to a car driver travelling towards Kirkwall, as you were, from 208 metres away. The Volkswagen Sharan’s headlights would have illuminated the roadway whilst  it was still within Hatston Park before joining the main road. The evidence showed that, presented with that situation, you could have stopped in time even had you been driving at 99 miles per hour. Now I accept from the evidence that you were not driving at that speed or anything close to it, but you were nevertheless driving in excess of the speed limit, to the extent that you had already alarmed other drivers who encountered you that night.

Whilst you may well have found that you were about to collide with a car which had lawfully pulled out at the junction, and you were no doubt panicking, this was a situation created by you.  You then chose the worst possible option, attempting an overtaking manoeuvre when you had seen oncoming headlights and knew that there was oncoming traffic. You caused a high-speed, head-on collision with the car being driven by Mrs Towers, as she returned home with her friend Mrs Stanger from Sunday night bingo. They had no chance of surviving the serious injuries which were caused by your driving.

These were wholly innocent people doing ordinary things and yet, with no warning, their lives were ended and their families are left with the enduring pain of their irreplaceable loss.

Mrs Towers leaves behind a husband who has suffered from anxiety, insomnia and depression as a result.

Mrs Stanger was married for forty six years and she died on her anniversary. Her husband has been devastated by the loss of his wife and has suffered medical consequences. Mrs Stanger was a central and supportive figure in a family of six siblings and she leaves three sons and six grandchildren, all of whom are left to bear their sudden bereavement. The loss of his mother has had profound effects on her son Allan who lived with his parents when his mother died.

The sentence I will pass is not in any sense a measure of the value of the lives that have been lost. There is no sentence that I can pass which can have any impact on the loss and grief felt by two families and the community in which Mrs Towers and Mrs Stanger lived.

I note from your record of convictions that in 2007 you were convicted of using a vehicle without insurance and you committed an offence relating to its condition for which your licence was endorsed with penalty points. In 2008 you drove whilst using a mobile telephone and again your licence was endorsed. In 2009, you were disqualified for “drink-driving” and careless driving. You did not heed these warnings and I regard these convictions as relevant and aggravating.

Having balanced all of the factors to which I have referred and the points made in your favour by Mr Graham, and my own assessment of the evidence which I heard, and having considered sentencing guidance for cases of this kind, I have reached the conclusion that there is no alternative to a prison sentence because of the gravity of the crime which you committed.

You will go to prison for five years, backdated to 31 October 2013 when you were remanded in custody at the end of your trial. You will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of five years and until you pass the extended driving test. Your licence will be endorsed”.