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Summaries of Court Opinions

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In certain cases the judgment reached by the court may be of public interest or have wider implications beyond the parties involved. In these cases a summary of the court’s opinion will be produced and published along with a link to the full opinion. The summary provides a short explanation of the decision, the main points that it raises and will give an indication of any further proceedings that may be required. 

You can search judgments and opinions for individual cases on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service’s website. Please note that only in cases where there is a significant point of law or particular public interest will the opinions be published.

HMA V DAVID STUART NISBET

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lady Smith sentenced David Nisbet to five years and eight months in prison after he pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving on Waterfront Avenue, Edinburgh.

On sentencing Lady Smith made the following statement in court:

“On 22 November 2009, Fiona Clason, who was 24 years old, went to visit her mother at her flat in Waterfront Avenue. She was a talented and ambitious young woman who had graduated from Dundee University with a 1st class honours degree in English Literature and was to embark on a teacher training course at Moray House. She was musical. She was much loved by all her family who were, understandably, very proud of her.  I have read their victim statements and it is clear from them that the depth of their grief and sense of loss is profound.

At about 8pm, Fiona Clason left her mother’s flat and went to catch a bus from the opposite side of the road. She was going to meet a friend. She never made it. Her life, so full of promise, was tragically and quite unnecessarily cut short.

You were driving down Waterfront Avenue at that time like, according to one witness “a boy racer”. You had just bought the VW Golf that you were driving – a powerful car, 5 cylinder with a 2.3litre engine. The social enquiry report that I have been provided with tells me that you had some argument with two men, then you thought you saw them in a car and you wanted to avoid another confrontation with them – that, apparently, is the explanation or excuse for the way you acted after that. It is, however, certainly not any excuse and it provides a depressing explanation.  In your hands, the car became a lethal weapon, as any car has the potential to do. You were driving at excessive speeds of 70 -80mph. That is in excess of the national speed limit for driving on any road in this country, even on a motorway. Waterfront Avenue is, however, in the city and the speed limit there is 30 mph. It was dark. It was raining. There were strong winds. The road surface was wet. To say that your driving was stupid, selfish and irresponsible is a gross understatement. You were, quite simply, driving dangerously. The manner of your driving was such that your passenger was so scared that she shut her eyes.  You collided with Fiona Clason when you were driving in excess of 80mph, you lost control of your car, and you swerved into the pathway of a bus – it is a tribute to the quick reactions of the bus driver that he managed to avoid a collision by driving onto the opposite side of the roadway. You survived intact.  Fiona Clason, on the other hand, suffered a skull fracture, intracranial haemorrhage and severe brain injuries as a result of the impact.

And then, notwithstanding the fact that it must have been glaringly obvious to you that you had caused a dreadful accident, you didn’t stop. You didn’t report the accident. You drove away.  I do, however, note that you eventually attended the police headquarters at Fettes Avenue, voluntarily, in the early hours of the following morning   and admitted having been involved in the collision in Waterfront Avenue.

On 23rd November, Fiona Clason died. Five separate people have benefited from her death as her organs were donated but she is lost to her family and friends and the story of her young life has been abruptly brought to an end.

In summary, you drove dangerously and your offence is aggravated by the fact that you caused the death of another human being by doing so, by the fact that the manner of your dangerous driving was that you drove, in the city, at a time that members of the public were likely to be out and about,  in a powerful car with which you were not familiar,  at a grossly excessive speed not only in the light of the relevant speed limit but also in the light of the road and weather conditions, by the fact that you put a bus and its driver and passengers at risk, by the fact that you yourself had a passenger for whose safety you were responsible but which you put at risk, by the fact  that  you were driving whilst uninsured, by the fact that you failed to stop after the accident and by the fact that you failed to report it.

There is no doubt that, in these circumstances, the only type of sentence that is appropriate is a custodial one and that you require to disqualified from driving. The main question for me is what should be the length of each?

No sentence of the court can restore life. Nor can the gift of life or its value to parents and family be measured by a term of imprisonment. The sentence which I am gong to impose is certainly influenced by the dreadful loss inflicted by you on them but it is not intended to be any sort of quantification of that loss. Such loss is just not quantifiable.

In your favour is that you do now appear to have appreciated the seriousness of your actions and have shown genuine remorse. Your own family life has been, it seems, irretrievably disrupted as a result of your offence . Although you have some previous convictions, they are relatively minor and non analogous in nature – the one road traffic offence on your schedule is of  a different character to the main charge on this indictment. I note also that prior to this offence you were in regular self - employment.  I also, of course, also note that you pled guilty to these offences at the first preliminary hearing, the terms of the plea having been agreed some two weeks in advance. You did so, of course, in circumstances where you could not have done other than accept that you were driving the car that killed Fiona Clason in the circumstances to which I have referred.

Charge 1:  7 years reduced to 5 years 8 months in the light of your plea.  10 years disqualification and ordered to resit extended driving test.

Charge 2: 1 year concurrent reduced from 15 months in the light of your plea and your licence will be endorsed

Charge 4: 3 months concurrent reduced from 4 months in the light of your plea and your licence will be endorsed.

Charge 5: 3 months concurrent reduced from 4 months in the light of your plea and your licence will be endorsed”.