HMA v Graeme McLaughin

At the High Court in Glasgow on 1 August 2016, Lord Armstrong sentenced Graeme McLaughin to a Community Payback Order and disqualified him from driving for four years after the accused pleaded guilty causing death by careless driving.

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

“Graeme McLaughin, you have pleaded guilty to a contravention of section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and to thereby causing the death of James Lambert by your careless driving.

The circumstances were that in the early afternoon of Friday 11 July 2014, Mr Lambert was driving his motorcycle on the A822, heading north to Crieff. The weather conditions were dry and bright and the road surface was in good condition. Traffic was steady, but not constant.

You were driving your Ford Fiesta in the opposite direction. At a point approximately 150 metres north of the junction of the A822 with Templemill Road, you pulled out, into the opposing carriageway, in order to overtake a Land Rover in front of you, and collided, head-on, with Mr Lambert’s motorcycle. 

The motorcycle fragmented on impact and Mr Lambert was thrown against your vehicle and then over it. He suffered multiple serious injuries, including a right-sided pneumothorax, an open fracture of the right femur, fractures of the right radius, ulna, and shoulder joint, fractures of the left second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh ribs and a fracture of his spine.

Despite medical assistance at the road-side, and the transfusion of four pints of blood en route to hospital, he was pronounced dead shortly before 4pm. His death resulted from massive blood loss, with associated loss of blood pressure and shock, leading to cardiac arrest.

The death of another in such circumstances is of course tragic and the loss to Mr Lambert’s family and those who knew him incalculable. There is no sentence which I could pass which could give comfort to those directly affected or which could compensate for their loss.

In considering the matter of the appropriate sentence in these circumstances, it must be recognised that there is a wide range of driving which can properly be described as driving without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for the purposes of the section of the statute of which you stand convicted.

It is incumbent on me, following the guidance set out by the Appeal Court in cases such as Her Majesty’s Advocate v Noche (2011), to have regard to the terms of the Definitive Guideline ‘Causing Death by Driving’, issued in July 2008 by the Sentencing Guidelines Council in England.

Of the five determinate factors set out in the Definitive Guideline as being referable to the assessment of the gravity of the offence, and therefore the extent of your culpability, the only one which applies is your failure to have regard to a vulnerable road user, in that Mr Lambert was driving a motorcycle. Otherwise, in assessing your culpability, I note that there was no evidence to suggest that you were driving at excessive speed.  

In that regard, I note that the stretch of road concerned was subject to the national speed limit of 60 mph. This is not a case where it can be said that there was a deliberate course of bad driving.

I note the driver of the Land Rover was not aware of Mr Lambert’s presence on the road until  immediately before the collision, and I also take into account that the mature trees lining this stretch of road produce areas of dark shadow, contrasting sharply with adjacent patches of bright sunny areas, and that the opinion of the police road traffic collision investigators is that moving at speed between these areas of bright light and dark shadow could affect the vision of drivers and the visibility of oncoming traffic.

Taking all of these factors into account, I would characterise the degree of carelessness involved in this case as a single negligent manoeuvre involving momentary inattention.

On the other hand, I note what has been said on your behalf today.  I take into account that you have no criminal history whatever and appear before me as a first offender. 

You are a married man, with two children. It is said on your behalf that this road accident has had a profound effect on you, and that you have not driven since. 

Although it can be of little, if any, consolation to Mr Lambert’s family, I accept that you are deeply remorseful, and that you realise and accept the full impact of what has happened and your responsibility for it.

I have taken into account the terms of the criminal justice social work report (CJSWR), which is generally positive in its terms. I have taken into account the content of the two letters tendered to me on your behalf.

Having regard to all of these facts and circumstances, the Definitive Guideline points to the making of a community order, rather than to a custodial disposal. 

But for your early plea, I would, accordingly, have made a Community Payback Order with a requirement of 300 hours of unpaid work and I would have disqualified you from driving for a period of five years. 

However, taking into account the timing of your guilty plea, and its resulting utilitarian value, the sentence which I shall in fact impose is one of a Community Payback Order with a requirement for 240 hours of unpaid work to be completed within 12 months, and I shall disqualify you from driving or applying for a driving licence for a period of four years, with effect from 1 July 2016. 

Thereafter, you will be required to pass the extended driving test before you can drive again. Your driving licence will be endorsed accordingly.”