HMA v Alexander Cassidy

At the High Court in Glasgow today, 19 April 2017, Lord Clark sentenced Alexander Cassidy to a Community Payback Order with a requirement for 240 hours of unpaid work after the accused pled guilty to causing the death of Wayne Strickland by careless driving.

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

‎“Alexander Cassidy, you were charged with causing the death of Wayne Strickland by dangerous driving. As originally framed, the charge referred to you driving at excessive speed for the road conditions.

At a preliminary hearing on 22 September 2016, a plea of guilty to causing death by careless driving was tendered on your behalf.

Careless driving is driving without due care and attention. Causing death by dangerous driving is a more serious offence.

Your plea of guilty to causing death by careless driving was under deletion of the reference to you having driven at excessive speed for the road conditions.

On 14 March of this year, in light of expert advice from collision experts, that plea was accepted by the Crown.

The circumstances were that at 8.45am on Monday 20 July 2015 Wayne Strickland was driving his Peugeot car on the westbound Edinburgh to Glasgow M8 motorway. The fatal collision occurred approximately 250 metres east of the exit slip road at junction 3, Livingston, on the inside lane (lane 1) of the motorway.

Road works on the adjoining A899 had caused a tailback that led to a build-up of stationary traffic on the exit slip road and this in turn had caused traffic to slow and become stationary on the inside lane of the motorway. This is described in the agreed narrative as an unexpected and unusual event. The traffic in lane 2 was flowing freely at normal motorway speeds.

The collision occurred during daylight hours with no reported factors affecting visibility. The road surface was dry. You were driving a Mercedes Sprinter van at a speed of 61.5 miles per hour. As you approached the point at which the slip road exits from the motorway, you were looking in your mirror to see if you could pull out into the outside lane. Then, when you turned to focus on the road ahead, you saw Mr Strickland’s car in front of you. The collision experts are agreed that you had very little time in which to react. In particular, it is agreed that you had insufficient time to avoid a collision.
Nonetheless, as is reflected in your plea of guilty, you accept that you failed properly to observe the slow moving and stationary traffic in front of you.
Your van drove into the rear of Mr Strickland’s car, shunting it forwards into the rear of the stationary car in front of him, which was being driven by Piotr Skryzpiec. That car was in turn shunted forwards into the rear of a large goods vehicle.

A fire started in or around Mr Strickland’s car immediately or very quickly after the collision, engulfing it in flames with Mr Strickland, who had suffered catastrophic injuries because of the collision, still inside. The fire spread to the car in front and to your van. You tried to get into Mr Strickland’s car to help but the door was jammed and you were dragged away by another driver because of the fire. At the scene, you accepted that you were at fault. Mr Strickland was pronounced dead at 9.15am.

The death of Mr Strickland in such terrible circumstances is utterly tragic. The loss to his family and those who knew him is immeasurable. There is no sentence which I can pass which can in any way counter the impact of the loss to the family of their loved one and their resulting grief and suffering. Mr Strickland was a deeply-loved husband and father, brother and son. That is made very clear from the terms of the Victim Impact Statement from Mr Strickland’s wife with which I was provided.

The other driver, Mr Skrzypiec, received medical treatment for his injuries.
In considering what is the appropriate sentence in these circumstances, I am required to have regard to the terms of the Definitive Guideline ‘Causing Death by Driving’, issued in July 2008 by the (English) Sentencing Guidelines Council. The primary factor to which I must have regard is the level of culpability for the incident. I require to consider the quality of the driving involved and the degree of danger that it foreseeably created.

The Guideline sets out factors which may be regarded as determinants of offence seriousness. These relate to assessing the quality of the driving. These factors include such things as a lack of awareness of risk shown by a prolonged and deliberate course of bad driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving at inappropriate speed, driving while using a mobile phone or while your attention is avoidably distracted, driving with a known medical condition that impairs driving skills, or failing to have regard to people who fall into the defined category of vulnerable road users.

Your driving does not involve any of these specific issues. But you did fail properly to observe the slow moving and stationary traffic in front of you. This failure appears to have resulted from you spending moments of time looking in the wing mirror to see if you could move into lane 2. However, I also have to take into account that this build-up of traffic on the motorway because of road works off the motorway was unusual and unexpected and that you had very little time to react.

The Guideline gives three levels of seriousness in relation to this offence, which are defined by the degree of carelessness involved. Taking all of the circumstances into account, I would characterise the degree of carelessness involved in this case as towards the lower end of the scale – it was careless driving arising from very brief, although it appears not just momentary, inattention.

I am also required to have regard to a further important consideration. You have not previously served any period of imprisonment. The law states that a court shall not pass a sentence of imprisonment on a person who has not been previously sentenced to imprisonment or detention unless the court considers that no other method of dealing with him is appropriate.

You are now 30 years of age. You have held a full UK driving licence since 6 October 2004. Ten years later your licence was endorsed with 3 penalty points for using a mobile phone whilst driving, but there is no suggestion of anything like that having occurred in relation to the present offence. You have no previous convictions. You have a good employment record and your employer speaks highly of you.

You have from the outset accepted full responsibility for the offence. I accept (as does Mr Strickland’s family) that you have shown genuine remorse for your actions. Although of little, if any, consolation to the family, you will require to live with the consequences of this offence for the rest of your life. As I have mentioned, you also sought to give assistance at the scene. The family wish you to know that they bear no malice towards you.

I have taken into account everything said on your behalf this morning. I have also taken into account the terms of the Criminal Justice Social Work report now available to me, which records your remorse and concludes that there is a low risk of further offending behaviour.

In the whole circumstances of this case, the Definitive Guideline points to a sentence in the form of a Community Payback Order, rather than to a period of imprisonment.  

Had you been convicted after a trial, I would 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, I require to take into account the timing of your guilty plea and its resulting utilitarian value in avoiding the need for a trial. Accordingly, the sentence which I impose is one of a Community Payback Order with a requirement for 240 hours of unpaid work to be completed within 12 months. I shall also disqualify you from driving or applying for a driving licence for a period of four years, with effect from 14 March 2017. 

Before you are allowed to drive again you will also be required to pass the extended driving test. Your driving licence will be endorsed accordingly.”