Cyclist killer Gary McCourt: Crown loses appeal against 'lenient' sentence
- 25 September 2013
- From the section Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland
The Crown Office has lost its appeal against the sentencing of a man whose driving has caused the deaths of two cyclists.
Gary McCourt was banned from driving for five years and ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service after being convicted over the second death.
Prosecutors said his sentence for causing the death of Audrey Fyfe, 75, in Edinburgh in 2011 was too lenient.
However, the appeal was rejected by appeal court judges in Edinburgh.
Mrs Fyfe's daughter, Aileen Brown, later said she was "lost for words" at the decision.
On sentencing, the sheriff had said that Mrs Fyfe's failure to wear a helmet may have contributed to her death.
However, appeal court judges considered the sheriff was wrong to "regard this as a matter of judicial knowledge".
'Delicate and detailed'
In a written opinion, Lord Menzies said: "However, in all the circumstances, we cannot disagree with the sheriff's categorisation of this as a momentary inattention, the result of which was a low impact, low speed collision with Mrs Fyfe's cycle.
"Despite the sheriff's error in treating the fact that Mrs Fyfe was not wearing a cycle helmet as a mitigatory factor, we are unable to say that the sentence of a community payback order with the maximum number of unpaid hours was unduly lenient.
"The court stated that it is perhaps easy to take a superficial view that by his bad driving the respondent has caused the death of two people in two road accidents over 27 years and that this required to be marked with a sentence of imprisonment.
"However, the sheriff has carried out the delicate and detailed sentencing exercise with considerable care and has given full reasons for the conclusion which he reached.
"The court must give weight to his views, particularly given that this is a case which has gone to trial and the sheriff has had the advantage of seeing and hearing all the evidence."
Addressing the length of McCourt's driving ban, the judges said: "Notwithstanding the previous conviction in 1986, we are unable to agree with the Solicitor General's submission that this is inadequate to provide sufficient protection to the public.
"For these reasons this appeal must be refused."
McCourt, 49, had previously been jailed for causing another cyclist's death by reckless driving in 1985.
Edinburgh man George Dalgity, 22, was killed while cycling along the city's Regent Road.
In April, a jury at Edinburgh Sheriff Court found McCourt guilty of causing Mrs Fyfe's death by careless driving.
The trial heard that McCourt told police he "clipped" Mrs Fyfe's back wheel at a junction.
The cyclist died two days after the collision, which took place between Portobello Road and Craigentinny Avenue on 11 August 2011.
Prosecutors had argued that McCourt should have been jailed and banned from driving for life for the offence.
Speaking after the appeal court judgement, Aileen Brown said: "I am lost for words.
"There was a unanimous vote in parliament earlier this month to strengthen the enforcement of road traffic law, to ensure driving offences - especially those resulting in death or injury - are treated sufficiently seriously by police, prosecutors and judges.
"The police here did an admirable job for us but the Scottish justice system appears to have had complete disregard for government policy.
"Scotland led the way in the smoking ban and minimum pricing on alcohol. The decision to allow Gary McCourt and drivers like him to drive again suggests that the judiciary are frightened to grasp the nettle and make decisions which would make our country a safer place to live."
Donald Urquhart, secretary of cycling charity CTC Scotland, said it was "neither right nor acceptable" that McCourt could be allowed to drive again in the future.
He said: "Someone who has now killed two vulnerable road users with a motor vehicle will be allowed to resume driving in a relatively short time, whilst the families and friends of those killed have been permanently affected by his criminal conduct."