HMA v Darren Ferris

At the High Court in Edinburgh on 15 January 2016, Lord Turnbull sentenced Darren Ferris to nine-and-a-half years imprisonment and banned the accused from driving for 12 years after he pled to guilty to causing death by dangerous driving when under influence of drink.

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

“Lynda Carson was a 44-year-old mother and wife in the prime of her life who, through the random timing of taking her dog for a walk, found herself in the path of you, a drunken driver driving at excessive speed in a residential area, who lost control of his vehicle mounted the pavement and killed her outright by crashing into her and then a wall. 

Your behaviour on that evening, when seen in the context of your previous offending, demonstrates that you have no sense of the civilised values by which others in our community live their lives and that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you. 

In May 2014 you were convicted of driving without a licence and without insurance. Within about half a year you were again convicted in January 2015 of road traffic offences. 

On this occasion the offences of which you were convicted included taking a motor vehicle without authority, driving whilst under the influence of alcohol and without insurance. 

A community payback order for a period of 12 months was imposed, and you were disqualified from driving. 

Despite this, within a few further months you were again convicted in June of last year of an offence of taking a motor vehicle without authority, of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol and of driving whilst disqualified. 

Sentence on these offences was deferred until 1 October 2015, which was also within the currency of the previously imposed community payback order. 

Despite being on bail, deferred sentence and serving a committee payback order, all in relation to road traffic offences involving alcohol, you then proceeded to drink very large quantities of Buckfast wine on 27 September last year, before again driving recklessly whilst disqualified and without insurance and whilst you were utterly intoxicated. 

As one might expect for someone with a demonstrated history of behaving in such a callous fashion, the author of the social enquiry report observes that you have tried to minimise your own responsibility and she could detect little by way of insight or genuine remorse. 

The consequence of your conduct was predictable but truly tragic for Mrs Carson and her family. The victim impact statements with which I have been provided make most distressing reading. 

The sentence which I must select is designed to reflect the level of your culpability, which is very high. 

In doing that I recognise only too well though that no sentence which I can impose is capable of undoing the harm caused by the way in which you chose to drive on 27 September 2015.  

Nor can any sentence of imprisonment reconcile the Carson family to their loss, or alleviate their anguish. 

I do not have the power to do that, and the sentence which I will impose is not an attempt to do so. 

The sentence which I must impose is not designed to be a measure of the Carson family’s loss, nor is it designed to be a measure of the value of the life of a much loved daughter, wife, sister and mother.

Indeed the sentence which I must impose will probably seem insignificant by comparison with the sentence which you have imposed upon that family.

I will take account of the sensitive and measured plea tendered on your behalf, but in truth it is difficult to detect any mitigation in your conduct beyond your early plea of guilty.

In light of that plea I am required by Parliament to consider discounting the sentence which I would otherwise have imposed to reflect the utilitarian value of the guilty plea.

However, in the case of Gemmell & Ors v HM Advocate the then Lord Justice Clerk observed that there was a risk to the credibility of the court’s sentencing decisions in the disproportionate effect which a fixed percentage deduction could have on an otherwise well merited lengthy sentence.

I will take account of this valid concern in assessing the utilitarian value of the plea of guilty in this case.

The sentences which I will impose are these:

On charges 4 and 6 I will admonish you rather than impose a financial penalty which is all that is available to me.

On charges 2 and 3 – I will impose a sentence two years imprisonment on each charge to be served concurrently and disqualify you from driving for a period of two years on each charge.

On charge 5 – I will impose a sentence of 18 months imprisonment to be served concurrently with the other sentences imposed.

On charge 1, the principal charge on the indictment, you will be disqualified from driving for 12 years and you will be required to sit the extended test of competence to drive.

I would have imposed a sentence of 12 years imprisonment. In light of the plea of guilty I will restrict that to a period of nine-and-a-half years to be served concurrently with the other sentences imposed and all sentences will date from today.”