HMA v Stuart David McCulloch

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Pentland sentenced Stuart McCullock to five years in prison after he pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. Michael Cameron died following an accident on the A9 Inverness to Thurso road on 26 February 2011.

On sentencing Lord Pentland made the following statement in court:

“Stuart David McCulloch, you have pled guilty, under section 76 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, to the statutory offence of causing death by careless driving while unfit to drive through drink.  

I am acutely aware that no sentence I impose can possibly serve to undo the devastating consequences of your grossly irresponsible behaviour on 26 February last year. Your reprehensible conduct brought about the untimely death of a young man, who had been your friend, and caused great grief to his family and friends.

It is important to note at the outset that you were not a qualified driver at the time, holding only a provisional driving licence. You had been drinking throughout the evening until the early hours of the morning. I note that when the police encountered you in Thurso town centre at about 2.30am they found you to be confrontational and under the influence of alcohol. When interviewed after the offence by the police you admitted that you had been drinking throughout the evening and that you were drunk. When a blood sample was taken from you after the accident it was found that you were approximately 25 per cent over the drink driving limit. 

Despite your inexperience as a driver and your drunken state, you made a deliberate decision to drive Mr Cameron’s car, in which he was traveling as the front seat passenger. Other people driving on the same stretch of road described the driving conditions that night as perfect. The carriageway has long straight sections with open bends and good visibility. There were no defects in the road or in the car you were driving. You drove for a considerable distance. What appears to have happened is that you were driving too fast when you lost control of the car, causing it to cross the road and collide violently with a building and a dry stone dyke. Your friend died outright in the accident. To make matters even worse, you repeatedly denied to witnesses and the police that you had been driving. Looking at the whole picture, I consider that your level of culpability for this tragic episode must be regarded as being high.

I acknowledge that you have only one previous criminal conviction and that it is not analogous to the present offence. I recognise also that you have a good employment record and a supportive family. You have expressed remorse and regret for what you did. The criminal justice social work report assesses you as presenting a low risk of reoffending.

In selecting the appropriate sentence, I have had regard to guidance from the criminal appeal court as well as to the guidelines issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council on the appropriate range of sentences for this particular offence.

Having regard to your level of carelessness and to all other relevant considerations, the sentence I would have imposed on you had you not tendered a guilty plea would have been one of 7 years imprisonment. You pled guilty under section 76 at an early stage with the result that the need for a trial was avoided, although it seems clear that you had no realistic option but to plead guilty to a charge of causing death by careless driving. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that your guilty plea had some utilitarian value and that you should be given credit for that. In the exercise of the discretion conferred on me I shall reduce the headline sentence to 5 years imprisonment, backdated to 26 June 2012.

I shall disqualify you from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of 10 years. Had it not been for the guilty plea, this would have been 15 years. I also order that, following the expiry of the period of disqualification, you remain disqualified until you pass the extended driving test”.