HMA v Stephen Clarke

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 20 February 2017, Lord Boyd of Duncansby sentenced Stephen Clarke to two years’ imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. He was also disqualified from driving for a period of four years.

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

“Stephen Clarke, you have been convicted on your own plea of causing the death by dangerous driving of Farzana Kousar.

On 22 December 2014 you were driving a van on the A74(M), near Eaglesfield, Lockerbie.

At about 5.30 that morning your van was seen to swerve from lane to lane before colliding with the vehicle in which Ms Kousar was a passenger, which had been parked on the hard shoulder.

As a result of the impact Ms Kousar was thrown into the roadway and sustained the injuries from which she later died.

It is difficult to find words to describe the impact on Ms Kousar’s family and friends. I note that she has four children ranging in ages from 21 years old to four years old.  The youngest was only two years old at the time of her mother’s death.

I have read the victim statement prepared by Arshad Begum, Ms Kousar’s mother, on behalf of the family. It makes heart-breaking reading. There is nothing I can do or say that can compensate for their loss.

You started your journey at 1.20 am when you left the Parcelforce depot in Coventry to drive to Glasgow. The previous night you had apparently been working from 2 am until 1.30 or 2pm.

You had had four or five hours sleep before going back into the depot. It is clear that the amount of sleep you had was inadequate.

I have been told that there was a very similar incident involving another driver from the same company on the same stretch of road only one month before.

It is also clear that you were expected to work long hours for little pay. I understand that drivers would be fined £50 if they turned work down.

It is very concerning to learn of the pressures that appear to be placed on self-employed delivery drivers such as you.

It may be that there is a more general issue to be addressed to ensure that road safety is not compromised by drivers who may feel that they are put under pressure by their employers to work beyond safe limits.

To your credit you have not sought to rely on any pressure from your employer. You take full responsibility for what happened.

In sentencing you I have to assess the level of your culpability and to take into account such aggravating and mitigating factors as are relevant. In doing so I will follow the Sentencing Guidelines form the Sentencing Council of England and Wales.

You are 60 years old. You are a first offender with a hitherto clean driving record.

You had a good work record until 2014 when you struggled to find work before eventually singing up as a self-employed courier driver. Your wife suffers a long term illness and it is clear that she would ordinarily be looking to you for care and comfort.

You have also shown awareness of the impact of the accident on Ms Kousar’s family and offered your personal apology for taking her life.  You have shown considerable remorse.

You have pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. You have thus acknowledged your guilt and avoided the necessity of a trial with all that might entail for the victim’s family.

The law recognises the utilitarian value of a plea at an early stage by providing for a discount on the sentence and in due course I will give you the benefit of the discount.

I have first to decide on the level of your culpability. In your case you fell asleep. But there are no other aggravating factors, such as the use of drink or drugs or speeding.

Accordingly, I am satisfied that the level of culpability in your case is the lowest level of the Sentencing Council guidelines; level 3. The guidelines indicate that the sentencing range for such a level is two to five years with a starting point of three years.

I can find no other aggravating or mitigating features beyond those I have mentioned.

Accordingly, had you been convicted after trial I would have imposed a sentence of three years’ imprisonment. In view of the plea I shall discount the sentence to one of two years’ imprisonment to run from today’s date.

I shall disqualify you from driving for a period of four years and order that you may not apply for a licence until you have passed an extended driving test.”