Tyne & Wear

Tyneside death cab driver is spared jail

A taxi driver who killed a passenger after driving off with his cab door open has been spared jail.

Paul Stephenson, 61, picked up Aaron Todd and four others from South Tyneside in March 2009, and pulled over to allow one of them to be sick.

He sped off, and 18-year-old Mr Todd, was injured when he fell or jumped out. He died in hospital six days later.

Stephenson was found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court in May of causing death by careless driving.

The jury was instructed to clear him of the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving, which he had denied.

'Doing a runner'

Mr Justice Davis, sitting at Teesside Crown Court, sentenced Stephenson to nine months in jail, suspended for 18 months. He will have to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

The judge disqualified him from driving for 18 months, which could finish his taxi-driving career.

The judge said sentencing him was "very difficult".

Mr Todd and his four friends got out of Stephenson's Fiat Scudo when he stopped on Hedworth Lane, Jarrow, on 29 March 2009.

Stephenson said he believed the friends, who had been out celebrating a birthday, were trying to "do a runner" to avoid paying the £8.40 fare.

He claimed he thought the taxi - which has a sliding door - was empty when he set off.

On sentencing, the judge said Stephenson failed to take proper care of his customers and may have acted in anger as well as fear.

'Being boisterous'

The judge said Mr Todd jumped from the vehicle as it moved off.

He said: "That's what drunk young men do, they sometimes do reckless things."

"You as an experienced driver should have known that and should have guarded against it."

The judge stressed that he believed Mr Todd's friends had no aggressive intent, saying: "They were being boisterous, no more than that."

Mr Justice Davis expressed concern that the defendant apparently lacked remorse and gave the impression throughout the trial that he did not understand why he had been prosecuted.

Christopher Knox, defending, said it was a "momentary misjudgement".

He said: "It was a short period of time in which he made a decision which was wrong, and there was a tragic consequence."

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