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Scot Free: Justice system in Edinburgh fails cyclists as McCourt appeal refused

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CTC, the national cycling charity, is bitterly dismayed over today's decision of the Court of Appeal in Edinburgh to allow 49-year-old Gary McCourt, whose driving has killed two cyclists, back on the roads.
Family united in disbelief Aileen Brown, Ian Fyfe and Linda Hamilton.
Family united in disbelief Aileen Brown, Ian Fyfe and Linda Hamilton

In response to a campaign organised by CTC and Audrey Fyfe's family, over 6,000 people wrote to the Procurator Fiscal against McCourt's 'unduly lenient' sentence. McCourt knocked Audrey off her bike in August 2011 and she died two days later.

He was given just 300 hours community service and a five-year driving ban.

At the end of the trial earlier this year, it emerged McCourt had also been found guilty of causing the death of 22 year-old George Dalgity in 1985 by reckless driving after being found guilty in April of causing the death of 75 year-old cyclist and lifelong CTC member Audrey Fyfe by 'careless' driving.

In court today, the three judges took minutes to impart their verdict to the assembled family and press. In the stunned silence that followed, McCourt put his hands on his head in a gesture of elation at the rejection of the appeal. The High Court has since released the reasons for the judgement, which you can read here.

 Donald Urquhart the Secretary of CTC Scotland commented outside court:

"A man who has now killed two cyclists will soon be allowed to resume driving, while the families and friends of those killed have been permanently affected by his criminal conduct.  

"The authority to drive a motor vehicle is not a right; it is a privilege, that should be withdrawn when driving conduct kills, injures or seriously endangers others, particularly when more vulnerable road users are affected. Allowing McCourt to continue driving is neither right nor acceptable in a civilised society.”

Audrey’s daughter 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 that  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."

Whatever adjective gets used, I would like to see 'careless' or 'reckless' drivers who are found guilty of killing or seriously injuring innocent road users to face a lifetime driving ban.  That would surely focus the minds of 'careless' drivers about what would happen because few people who drive want to lose their licence. That would send out the correct message.

Despite this bitterly disappointing outcome, at least we tried to do something about it and convince the judges that the sentence was far too lenient considering the circumstances of his past history."

Ian Fyfe, Audrey's widower

Briefly in the summary of the full written opinion, Lord Menzies agreed with the trial sheriff "that Mrs Fyfe was not at all to blame for anything".

The opinion 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."

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."

If you'd like to help CTC campaign to make the justice system protect cyclists, please make a donation.

Background

On 13 August a hearing took place before three judges at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh. The appeal decision was announced this morning (25 September) at the Edinburgh High Court of Justice.

CTC and the Fyfe family wanted the appeal judges to sentence McCourt to a lifetime driving ban to be absolutely sure that he would not endanger any more people with his driving.

CTC’s Road Justice campaign is demanding tougher sentences for bad drivers, better charging and prosecution decisions and better roads policing. 

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  • Patron: Her Majesty The Queen
  • President: Jon Snow
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  • Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC): A company limited by guarantee, registered in England no.25185. Registered as a charity in England and Wales No 1147607 and in Scotland No SC042541
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