HMA v Aaron Murphy

At the High Court in Edinburgh on 7 June 2016, Lady Wolffe sentenced Aaron Murphy to 20 months detention after the accused pled guilty to a charge of causing the death of Dale Whillan by dangerous driving. He was also disqualified from driving for six years.

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

“Aaron Murphy, you have pled guilty to a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, contrary to section 1 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act. 

The accident occurred on Easter Monday, 6 April 2015, on the A698 Hawick to Jedburgh road.  On that afternoon you and a number of friends decided to travel from Hawick to Berwick on Tweed. 

You did so in two cars in convoy. You were the driver of the second car, and had as your passengers Dale James Whillans and Lee Sanderson.  

In the course of that journey, you came upon a traffic queue near to the junction of the A698 with the B6358. As this line of traffic began travelling along a straight stretch, a number of oncoming vehicles precluded any safe overtaking. 

Once the last of these cars passed, however, the car in front of you and you both pulled out into the oncoming carriageway to overtake the line of cars ahead of you. You were both driving at excessive speeds, estimated to be at least 70mph.  

While the car in front of you managed to complete the overtaking manoeuvre, you did not. The driver of a Saab coming in the other direction saw that you were in his lane. He had his family, including two very young children, in his car. 

He brought his car to almost a complete stop to avoid a collision with you. The driver of one of the cars you were overtaking decelerated to try to give you space to pull back into the correct lane. 

Meanwhile, your passengers became concerned. It would appear that Dale Whillan, who was the front passenger, grabbed the wheel to try to pull the car back to the left. 

Your car left the road, collided with a road sign and a dry stane dyke, before rolling and coming to a stop in a field.  

Despite the efforts of an off-duty surgeon and paramedic, who were immediately on the scene, Dale Whillan lost his life as a consequence of the accident. Your other passenger also suffered severe injury, including a skull fracture and two punctured lungs. 

I note that you were only 18 at the time of the accident. You had had your licence for about 15 months. You had only had the car you were driving for 12 days. 

You have one previous conviction for a road traffic offence, four years ago, when you were 15. I give little weight to that given the age of that conviction and your own very young age at the time. 

I have had regard to the Criminal Justice Social Work Report. It notes that you accept full responsibility for your actions and are remorseful. You did not intend to cause harm but you were reckless as to the consequences of your actions. 

Notwithstanding the previous conviction, you are assessed as unlikely to re-offend. You are in employment, working in your father’s business. 

I have also had regard to the several letters of support written on your behalf, and which speak to your general good character, work ethic and maturity.  

I have had regard to all that has been said on your behalf today. This is that you accept full responsibility, and did so speaking with Mr Whillan’s mother. You are deeply remorseful and apologise for your actions.  

You lost a good friend whom you have known since the age of two. Your families are close and remain supportive of each other in the aftermath of this accident. You have been struggling to come to terms with what has happened. 

I have also had regard to the victim impact statement made by Mr Whillan’s mother. She explains the impact of this heart-breaking and abiding loss she has suffered in the loss of her only son as a consequence of your actions that day. With great dignity she expresses the view that a long jail sentence will not restore her son to her. 

This is a sad and tragic case for all concerned. 

 It is eloquent of the dangers posed by young, inexperienced drivers, driving at excessive speed and being reckless as to the consequences. By your actions you posed serious risks to other road users. 

Your front seat passenger, who was a good friend, has lost his life. You will have to carry the burden of what you have done. Your friend has lost his life and his family will bear that that loss for their lives, too. 

I am satisfied that there is no alternative to a custodial sentence. 

By reason of the nature of the offence, I am obliged to consider the definitive guidelines, Causing Death by Driving, produced by the Sentencing Council of England. 

This indicates a sentencing range of between two and five years. I take into account the foregoing circumstances of the accident and conclude that the circumstances accord with level 3 of those guidelines, meaning that you created a significant risk of danger. 

In considering the appropriate sentence, I balance the aggravating and mitigating factors present: these are the fact you were speeding and the fact that serious injury was also suffered by your other passenger in addition to the death you caused. I also take into account that the deceased was a life-long friend and I take that into account your age at the time of the offence and the relative lack of driving experience you had at the time. 

There is no suggestion that alcohol played any part and the recklessness was the bad judgement of a moment, rather than a more prolonged course. I have taken into account all that has been said on your behalf. 

The sentence I pass is one of two-and-one-half years. In the light of your early plea, I discount this to a sentence of 20 months. In addition, I disqualify you from driving for six years. I shall require you to sit an extended test before you may drive again.”