HMA v Alistair Downie

At the High Court in Paisley on 29 March 2016, Lady Scott imposed a Community Payback Order and a Restriction of Liberty Order upon Alistair Downie after the accused pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

On sentencing, Lady Scott made the following statement in court:

“Alistair Downie, you have pled guilty to driving dangerously whereby the resulting accident caused the death of a young man and injured another.

The deceased Carl Stuart MacPhee was a vibrant, popular and talented young man. He wanted to travel the world and had his whole future ahead of him.

I have read the victim impact statements which are heart-breaking. His family have been utterly devastated by his loss.

No sentence that I impose upon you can, or is intended to, reflect the loss suffered by the MacPhee family and friends, who are left forever bereft of a young man, so very much loved and with so much more to give.

You know all of this; Carl MacPhee was your best friend.

On 6 September 2014 you drove the deceased and four of your friends to a local away football match. You were all in the local team. You offered to transport them as you had recently, on 24 June 2014, passed your driving test.

On the return journey heading north towards Daliburgh South Uist, the speed limit changed from the national speed limit to 40mph. You continued to drive at between 51 and just under 60mph.

This speed was excessive for the road conditions. On entering a bend you went over two bumps and on a third bump the rear of the car swung to the right and you lost control.

The car rotated round, crossed the pavement crashed through a wire mesh fence, through a wooden garden fence and then rolled a number of times before crashing into an uprooted tree. The deceased and your friend Donald MacLachlan were thrown from the car.

I note from the information before me that whilst waiting for the ambulance, you sought to assist the deceased by talking with him, and covering him with blankets.

Mr MacPhee died in hospital some four hours later. Mr MacLachlan had a deep injury to his skull which required 12 stitches.

The road traffic investigation concluded that the cause of this accident was your driving at excessive speed for the conditions and your inexperience of driving whereby you could not control the car.

In making my assessment of the degree of seriousness of your dangerous driving I have had regard to the English sentencing guidelines for offences of this nature. I have concluded that the circumstances fall between level 3 for causing death by dangerous driving and the top level for causing death by careless driving.

This places the normal starting point for a prison sentence at a level between 15 months and three years’ imprisonment. This assessment includes having regard to any aggravating features and here this includes the additional injury caused to Mr MacLaclan.

On the other hand there are two significant features in mitigation which apply here. Firstly, that the person killed was a close friend.  Secondly, your lack of driving experience.  

I have considered all the information before me including the detailed criminal justice and social work (CJSW) background report and the submissions of counsel. I am satisfied in this case there are exceptional circumstances here in your favour.

As a starting point you were 18 years old at the time and a first offender. It is very clear that you have accepted full responsibility for your conduct, you have never sought to minimise this and you pled guilty at the earliest opportunity.

I have no doubt you have profound remorse. Indeed I would describe your reaction as feeling overwhelming guilt and it is clear that this responsibility weighs very heavy with you. Your feelings of loss for your best friend are compounded by your recognition that it was your conduct that robbed him of his life.

You grew up with the deceased and shared your lives together, notably in your shared pursuit of athletics and in football. You were close to his family.

It is to their enormous credit that they generous enough not to blame you for this accident. At their invitation you were a pall bearer at Mr MacPhee’s funeral. They have written to me asking me not to impose custody.

I am satisfied that all of this has contributed to a determination on your part to take make amends and to make a positive contribution with your future life in recognition of your friend’s loss of life.

The CJSW report is extremely positive in your favour. It makes clear that you are generally of good character and considers you are unlikely to re-offend. That is backed up by the many testimonials I have received from persons within your local community.

You have a positive and stable life within that close community, a long term partner and a supportive family. You have been to college, been in steady employment and you are within three months of successfully completing a long apprenticeship in mechanics. Your talents at football are employed in coaching local youngsters.

In considering a sentence of detention, I have had regard to these exceptional factors in mitigation; to my assessment of the culpability of the dangerous driving involved and to the discount of any period of custody which would be applied to any such sentence following your early plea. I have concluded any appropriate period of detention would be relatively short for this serious offence.

I also take into account from the information in the background report that on remand you have been shown to be vulnerable in respect of the effect upon your mental health and in your reaction to that environment, which, it is suggested, may have a negative effect upon you.

Furthermore, detention will result in your loss of apprenticeship thereby restricting your future prospects. I have no doubt whatever your future, you will carry the responsibility of what you have done in the commission of this offence for the rest of your life

Balancing all of these factors I have decided, in the exceptional circumstances presented here, that a sentence of detention is not necessary.

A community disposal is always also punitive, but in your case, within your close knit local community it will require you to visibly demonstrate your acceptance of your responsibility and commitment to make what reparation you can.

I am going to impose two orders upon you: a Community Payback Order and a Restriction of Liberty Order, which orders will run concurrently.

In addition you will be disqualified from obtaining or holding a driving licence for a period of five reduced from seven years to reflect your early plea.”