HMA v Michael Friel

At the High Court in Glasgow today, 7 February 2019, Lord Arthurson sentenced Michael Friel to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to causing the death of Megan Ambrozevich-Blair by dangerous driving. He was also banned from driving for nine years and nine months. On sentencing, Lord Arthurson made the following statement in court:

“Meghan Ambrozevich-Blair was born on 6 February 1990 in Edinburgh. Had she lived, she would yesterday have been celebrating her 29th birthday. Had she lived, she would by now have been married for some 18 months, having celebrated her wedding day on 16 July 2017.

“Had she lived, with her first class honours degree awarded to her as it was posthumously by her university, she would by now have been well embarked upon her long-chosen and much cherished career path of veterinary nursing. Had she lived, many more thousands of pounds would doubtless have been raised for the charitable causes she supported so passionately.

“But of course none of these events has come to pass. That is because on the morning of 9 December 2016, when she was only 26 years of age, with her whole adult life stretching out before her, Meghan Ambrozevich-Blair set out in her car to attend her work by way of the A1 dual carriageway near her home in the Dunbar area, only to encounter you driving a Transit Tipper vehicle, on the wrong side of the carriageway, towards and into a devastating collision with her vehicle, thereby occasioning the multiple horrific blunt-force injuries from which she died that morning.

“I will return to the events of that day in a moment, but wish to pause at this point to record that the victim impact documents prepared by members of Meghan Ambrozevich-Blair’s close family, which were tendered to the court following your plea of guilty to this indictment on 14 January this year at Edinburgh High Court, are among the most eloquent and moving statements of this nature which I have required to read in the course of my entire judicial career.

“I do not think that for one moment the regret and remorse which you have expressed, which I accept is on your part wholly sincere, can begin to encompass or even grasp the overwhelming and enduring nature of the grief and pain that your actions have inflicted upon the family of Meghan Ambrozevich-Blair.

“On 9 December 2016, at about 7.45am, you had undertaken a three-point turn on the westbound carriageway of the A1, and proceeded to drive eastwards along that carriageway into the face of oncoming traffic.

“Many drivers had to take evasive action to avoid you. You, however, continued on your course, and finally into a head-on collision with the car driven by your victim.

“A number of members of the public immediately stopped to render what assistance they could, and each one of them deserves considerable credit for doing so. In particular, Dr Campbell, an off duty doctor, commenced treatment, including CPR. Advanced life support was attempted by an ambulance crew and a Medic One unit led by Dr Carter, but to no avail.

“Subsequent to that day you have been seen by a number of psychiatrists and psychologists, and I require to proceed to sentence you for your criminal conduct on the basis of agreement between the Crown and defence that you suffered from an acute stress reaction.

“Indeed, senior Crown counsel in providing a narrative of this case to the court on 14 January emphasised that it is a matter of agreement that there is insufficient evidence that the effects of this reaction or condition were severe enough to render you completely incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of your conduct and thereby to avail you of a defence to the charge under section 51A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, with the emphasis on the word ‘completely’.

“I have listened carefully to and taken fully into account the cogent and helpful remarks of your senior counsel which have been this morning advanced in mitigation on your behalf, including of course the various documents to which he has referred.

“I have also read with care the background report upon you prepared in advance for this sentencing hearing. I note that in broad terms its contents chime generally with the points made by your senior counsel, albeit noting also that the author of the report concludes that you have acknowledged limited responsibility for your own conduct in this matter.

“That said, I accept that, notwithstanding a 2007 conviction for speeding, you appear to have lived a pro-social and on the whole blameless adult life, and further accept that it was not your intention on 9 December 2016 to drive your vehicle in such a manner that would produce the fatal outcome which it did.

“I also take into account the absence of injuries to any of the other drivers referred to in the libel, albeit this absence must have been primarily a matter of chance.

“I also take into account the significant injuries which you yourself sustained in the collision, and the ongoing support which you have received from your siblings, and in particular your sister.

“Finally, I note the terms of Dr Dorris’ recent report emphasising your likely vulnerability in any future custodial setting.

“Your senior counsel has contended on your behalf that a non-custodial disposal would be appropriate in your case, but has further submitted that, in the event of any prison sentence being imposed, such a disposal will require to be fully discounted.

“I have concluded, however, that in the whole circumstances of this case no sentence other than a custodial one would be appropriate. In considering the level of your culpability I require of course to weigh heavily in the balance the Crown’s acceptance that you were at the material time suffering from an acute stress reaction. That concession by the Crown must have the result of reducing, to an extent, the degree of culpability to be attributed by the Court to you.

“The driving which you engaged in on 9 December 2016 in my opinion can properly be characterised , under reference to the Definitive Guideline regarding this offence issued in July 2008 by the Sentencing Guidelines Council of England, which this court is entitled to have regard to in considering sentence in a matter of this nature, as driving that created a substantial risk of danger, thereby falling into level two of that definitive guideline.

“You executed a three-point turn on and proceeded to drive down a dual carriageway section of the A1 in the morning rush hour into oncoming traffic, all as libelled, and continued past vehicles which required to take evasive action to avoid you, finally ploughing your vehicle into a headlong and lethal collision with your victim’s car.

“It is of note that the five drivers who took evasive action to avoid collision with your oncoming vehicle , along with two other drivers who saw your vehicle, flashed their headlights at you to alert you to what you were doing. Your course of driving that morning can in these circumstances plainly not be considered in any sense a momentary episode.

“The relevant definitive guideline indicates that the sentencing range within level two is one of four to seven years’ imprisonment, with a starting point of five years. I have reached the view that your driving in and of itself on the occasion libelled ought properly to be located, apart of course from the critical feature in your case of your acute stress reaction, and notwithstanding the said starting point of five years, at the upper end of this parameter, for reasons which I will explain shortly.

“I propose in all of these circumstances to approach the sentencing exercise in your case in the following manner.  Taking a five-year sentence as my starting point, all in terms of the definitive guideline, I note two aggravating features in your case, namely your prior speeding conviction, which is of some age and appears to have been a relatively minor matter, and, more significantly, your disregard of the warnings of other drivers by way of flashing their headlights as you proceeded the wrong way down the carriageway. This latter feature in particular in my view places your case at around a tariff of six years.

“There being no other noteable aggravating features in your case, and no mitigating features beyond those I have already mentioned, I can advise you, however, that had you been convicted after trial I would, in view of the vitally important matter of the Crown concession regarding your acute stress reaction, and having regard to the other points advanced on your behalf this morning, have imposed a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

“You are entitled to a discount on that figure in recognition of the utilitarian value of your plea of guilty before trial. Although your position was quite properly focussed throughout these proceedings on the potential availability of a defence under section 51A of the 1995 Act, your plea of guilty in the end was only confirmed a matter of days before your trial was due to proceed.

“In these circumstances I will discount the said custodial tariff by a period of six months. I accordingly now sentence you to 42 months, that is a period of three years and six months, imprisonment, to run from today’s date.

“Notwithstanding the Crown’s concession regarding your mental state at the time of this terrible incident, it is my public duty, I have concluded, to mark the very serious and fatal nature of what occurred on the A1 on 9 December 2016 with such a custodial sentence, duly discounted.

“In taking some time to explain in detail my reasoning for what some would see as the relatively restricted nature of the final disposal in this case, it is perhaps worth observing that no sentence that this Court could ever impose could take away or even begin to reduce the scale of the grief and loss felt by Meghan Ambrozevich-Blair’s family, which I have attempted to emphasise earlier in these remarks.

“Finally, I disqualify you from driving for a period of nine years and nine months, being a period of eight years, discounted from a period of 10 years due to the timing of your plea, plus a mandatory extension of half of the final custodial sentence imposed, all in terms of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 section 35(C)(4). You will of course require to sit a prescribed test of competence to drive before you can ever obtain a licence again.”

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