HMA v James Hilton

At the High Court in Edinburgh today, 19 May 2017, Lord Woolman sentenced James Hilton to four years and two months imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to causing the death of Patrick Pirie by dangerous driving. He was also disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for nine years.

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

“On Saturday 7 March 2015 Patrick Pirie drove to the Farmers’ Mart in Huntly. His wife expected him home in the late afternoon. He never arrived. 

He died as a result of a head-on collision between his car and your car. It occurred because you drove around a bend on the wrong side of the road. 

Immediately prior to the collision, you were driving in a convoy with two other vehicles. One of them was driven by your friend David Somerville. The other was driven by someone who was a stranger to you, Jason Shand. 

Your three vehicles were causing concern to other road users. They thought that you were driving too fast, too close together and that you were keen to overtake all the vehicles in front. 

You overtook on a corner. You assumed that no vehicles were approaching from the opposite direction. There was no proper basis for that assumption. 

Your manoeuvre was downright dangerous. The risk of a catastrophic accident was obvious. Mr Pirie had no chance of avoiding the collision.  

Mr Lenahan said last time that you were enthused by the joy of driving. Unfortunately you were grossly over-confident about your skills. 

You have now pled guilty to causing the death of Mr Pirie by dangerous driving. You accept that you made a terrible mistake. 

Although the Crown has dropped the charges against the other two drivers in this court, it intends to prosecute them in the Sheriff court. 

This is a tragic case for everyone involved. 

Mr Pirie was a retired farmer aged 81. He was married with four grown up children. Your crime casts a terrible shadow over them. 

The harm caused by an offence that results in a person’s death is immeasurable. No sentence can reconcile them to his loss, nor will it cure their anguish. 

In her victim impact statement Mr Pirie’s widow Catherine states simply and eloquently that ‘This is the hardest and most emotional thing I’ve been asked to write because it is impossible to put into words how the sudden death of my husband of 56 years has impacted on my life.’ His daughter Joyce states that she thinks every day of not having had the opportunity to say goodbye to her father. 

It is also a tragedy for you, your family and friends. You must live with the knowledge that you have taken a life. That will always be on your conscience. 

I have considered all that has been said on your behalf and the terms of the criminal justice social work report. I note in particular your youth, the serious injuries that you yourself sustained in the incident, your remorse and regret, your previous good character and your supportive family background. 

Primarily, however, I must have regard to your conduct that day. Your driving fell far below that to be expected of a competent and careful driver. You presented a serious risk to other individuals. 

My duty is to discourage others from such irresponsible conduct. I must also mark the gravity of what happened. 

As Mr Lenahan rightly recognised, only a custodial sentence is appropriate. If you had been convicted after trial, I would have imposed a sentence of four years and seven months imprisonment. 

I shall discount the sentence by five months (about 10%) to reflect the utilitarian advantage secured by your plea. It avoided a difficult trial. The sentence is therefore one of four years and two months. 

I shall also disqualify you from holding or obtaining a driving licence for nine years (again discounted by 10% from 10 years) and thereafter until you have sat and passed the extended test of competence to drive. I shall order your licence to be endorsed accordingly.”