HMA v Colin Snell

At Edinburgh Sheriff Court Sheriff Welsh imposed a community payback order on Colin Snell after he pled guilty to causing death by careless driving. He was also disqualified from driving for three years.

On sentencing Sheriff Welsh made the following statement in court:

“Colin Snell, I acknowledge immediately the serious injury to all of the victims who were involved in the collision that day, especially in relation to Alexander Shiell who tragically lost his life and died from his injuries. He was a decent, well respected man who spent a lifetime before his retiral working on farms in East Lothian. He continues to be sorely missed by his widow, sister, family and friends.

However, I turn from the tragic consequences of what happened, to the cause of what happened. In my judgement your counsel has significantly understated your role and responsibility for this wholly avoidable tragedy. I do not accept that the quality of your driving, which caused this incident, could ever be characterised, as your counsel has done, as “a momentary lapse of attention”. As you approached the give way junction at the mouth of Shore Road at its junction with Edinburgh Road you had a clear and unimpeded view of the road this bus was travelling on. That view remained unobstructed right up to the point of impact.

The driver of the bus, Mark Gray, and a passenger of another vehicle that avoided the collision, both said, you came straight out of the junction without stopping and collided with the bus. The driver of the bus, Mark Gray, was in no way to blame for what happened.

In my judgment the degree and extent of your responsibility was significant and material for two reasons. Firstly, you crossed the clearly marked give way line, without stopping to assess the road conditions properly, to ensure it was safe to continue. Secondly, you had ample time and opportunity to see and assess the traffic conditions as you approached the unobstructed intersection right up to the moment of impact, but you did not. You were not paying sufficient attention to the general and specific road conditions and you caused this collision. You did not stop where and when you were obliged to and you failed to keep a proper lookout.  This collision was entirely your fault and you will have to live with the fact that, you alone, caused all this damage, injury and loss of life, for the rest of your life. Had you been paying proper attention and complied with the Highway Code, this collision would not have occurred. Your driving fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, that day.

I turn now to sentence. You were at first charged and indicted in the High Court with causing death by dangerous driving. That is the most serious road traffic offence in the statute book. The maximum sentence that offence carries is 14 years imprisonment. However, the Crown, now accepts your plea to the reduced charge of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, for which the maximum prison term is 5 years custody. Your counsel has asked me to impose a fine and penalty points to mark this offence.

I am not prepared to do that. I have no doubt that driving displaying the level of carelessness and the degree of culpability for which you are responsible, would, in the absence of an alternative means of disposal, attract a custodial sentence. However, I must be satisfied custody is the only appropriate disposal, before I can impose it. In your case, I am not so satisfied. Given your age, the terms of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report, your previous good character and driving record, I am satisfied there is an alternative punishment to custody.

I will impose a Community Payback Order. Given your early plea, in the sheriff court process before me, I will discount that by one third. I will order that you perform 200 hours of unpaid work in the community, as a direct alternative to custody. I will include a supervision requirement in the order, that you complete the Criminal Justice Road Traffic Group Work Programme, organised by Scottish Borders Council, to protect the public and reduce the likelihood of a repeat offence. Given the quality of your driving, I consider disqualification inevitable. However, in light of the supervision requirement I am imposing, notwithstanding your own personal circumstances and reliance upon a car, I will restrict this disqualification to 3 years, which is the minimum justifiable in the circumstances. To further protect the public, I will also order that you must sit the extended driving competency test in terms of s.36 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, before you can be licensed to drive again, in future”.