HMA v JAMES MITCHELL

Judge Beckett sentenced James Mitchell to 44 months in prison after he pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. On sentencing Judge Beckett made the following statement in court:

"James Mitchell, you pled guilty to causing the deaths of Derek and Avril Peoples by dangerous driving.

I accept that you have shown and felt real remorse for the consequences of the accident which you caused.  

At the age of 48, you are a first offender although I note that you do have an endorsement for speeding in January 2010.

It is to your credit that you have a consistent record of employment. You are fortunate to have a supportive family. I have carefully read and considered all of the references provided. It is plain that you are highly regarded by your family and those that you have worked with. You are considered to be a reliable and caring person. You have raised funds for charities. Your driving is described as generally careful and responsible.

I take into account all of the points made on your behalf by Mr Roy this morning and all of the information in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report including what is said about your health.

You pled guilty before the case was indicted so that it was known from that stage that there would not be a trial. The law requires me to take that into account.  However, in evaluating this factor, I note that you were interviewed with legal advice on 7 February 2013 and arrested on 28 May before your first appearance in court on 24 June and that the plea was not intimated until Police Investigators had reported in December 2013.

I recognise that you have not previously been sent to prison and that prison will be very difficult for you and that it will have a significant impact on your family. However, you brought these consequences on yourself, and on another family which has suffered greater pain and permanent consequences.

You were driving on a road with many adjoining farm entrances and there was one ahead of you. You seem not to have heeded the hazard warning lines in the centre of the road.  There were undulations in the road and when you began to overtake the lorry being driven in front of your car, you could not have had a clear view of the road ahead and you did not see the car with which you collided. You made an extremely rash and dangerous overtaking manoeuvre at a place on a country road, albeit an A road, where it was not safe to attempt it. The difficulty of the manoeuvre was all the greater given that it was an articulated lorry that you were trying to overtake, and that should have persuaded you to wait. The lorry was travelling at about 55mph, which further increased the difficulty of what you were trying to do. 

Mr Peoples, a competent driver with an unblemished driving licence was approaching in the opposing direction and found himself with nowhere to go when you drove towards him in his lane. The unavoidable head on collision which you caused gave him and his wife no chance of surviving.

With no warning, this much loved couple have been taken from their family. I have been provided with information from their relatives about the impact of what happened.

Their son has been devastated by the loss of his parents and his son’s grandparents. He has found it hard to continue with such a huge gap in his life. His health has suffered as a result of stress.

Their daughter was greatly supported by her parents and lived at home with them. She has been very badly affected emotionally and has found it impossible to live alone in her family home.

Against a background of recent family bereavements, Mrs People’s brother found the loss of two family members unbearable, but is conscious that it bears even more heavily on the children of the deceased.

Mr Peoples’ sister, with little warning, had to identify the bodies of her loved ones which was profoundly shocking for her. She speaks of the void left by her loss.

Since the accident, Mr Peoples’ brother has suffered health problems which he associates with the devastation he feels at the loss of loved ones whose bodies he had to identify.

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 the family of the deceased.

Having considered all of the circumstances of the case and the points made in your favour by Mr Roy, your remorse and your previously good character, and having considered sentencing guidance for cases of this kind, I conclude that there is no alternative to a prison sentence because of the gravity of the crime which you committed.

I accept that yours was not a prolonged course of dangerous driving, no alcohol was involved and you were not speeding, but having regard to the features which I have mentioned, I consider that you made a very serious misjudgement in the face of obvious dangers. You appear to recognise that, having said to the reporting social worker that you made a colossal error of judgment.  I must also take account of the level of harm you caused, the deaths of two people who had much to look forward to. 

If you had not pled guilty, you would have been sentenced to imprisonment for five years and disqualified for six years. Taking account of your having pled guilty when you did, the sentence will be reduced to forty four months, backdated to 29 January 2014.

You will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of fifty two months and until you pass the extended driving test. Your licence will be endorsed."