THERE were growing demands today for an urgent review of sentencing guidelines after the “disgusting” decision to allow killer driver Gary McCourt to walk free from court again.
Appeal court judges sparked fury by upholding the original sentence of just community service and a five-year driving ban for McCourt who knocked down and killed cyclist Audrey Fyfe, 75, in 2011 – 26 years after killing another cyclist. It came despite a public outcry, a petition signed by 6000 people and pleas to impose at least a life-time driving ban on the 49-year-old.
City council leader and keen cyclist Andrew Burns said he was “stunned” by the judges’ decision, while Mrs Fyfe’s widower John branded the justice system “not fit for purpose”.
The 81-year-old, retired British Rail worker from Joppa, said: “We need to have a review of sentencing guidelines. The guidelines need to be dramatically altered to take careless drivers off the roads. This man has ended two lives and he could be back driving in less than five years. This decision sends out the wrong message.
“We are demanding that something gets done although it will not be easy. The cycling organisations like CTC are 100 per cent behind us. They will keep up the pressure.”
He added: “It sends out the wrong message to other drivers. The judiciary is not fit for purpose.
“With these attitudes, I can see why people don’t feel encouraged to take up cycling. I’m disgusted, absolutely disgusted.”
Mr Fyfe and his family never called for McCourt, of Niddrie Mill Avenue, to be sent to jail, instead pressing for the lifelong ban.
Mrs Fyfe’s daughter, Aileen Brown, 48, said: “Changing our sentencing policy would be a rapid and inexpensive way to remove the unsafe drivers from the roads and, I am sure, reform those who don’t realise how vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists are.
“Cycling will only become safer if drivers like McCourt are banned from driving for life.”
Mrs Fyfe died two days after being struck by McCourt at the junction between Portobello Road and Craigentinny Avenue on August 9, 2011.
In April, McCourt was convicted after trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court of causing her death by careless driving.
Passing sentence, Sheriff Scott said that experienced cyclist Mrs Fyfe “contributed” to her death by not wearing a safety helmet.
He also said that he felt unable to impose a jail sentence because there were no aggravating factors like drink or drugs.
He said the collision happened because unemployed McCourt had “momentarily” lost concentration at the wheel of his Vauxhall Vectra.
The Crown Office lodged an appeal against the “unduly lenient” sentence, but Lord Menzies, Lord Glennie and Lady Dorrian yesterday dismissed it, adding that it “did not fall outside the range” of punishments available.
Lord Menzies did, however, state Sheriff Scott was wrong to treat the fact Mrs Fyfe was not wearing a cycle helmet as a mitigating factor.
Alison Johnstone, Lothian’s Green MSP, said the appeal judgement was “deeply worrying” and “reinforces the feeling that our justice system is not on the side of the most vulnerable on our roads”.
She added: “There is widespread agreement that a man who has killed two cyclists is being let off lightly, and at the very least should receive a lifetime driving ban. I welcome the court’s rebuke to the sheriff on his ill-judged comments on helmet use but this is not enough.
“If this light sentence is, as the court maintains, within the normal range available to the sheriff then I want to see what more can be done to review the sentencing guidelines for offences of this severity.”
Cllr Burns said his “heart goes out” to Mrs Fyfe’s family.
“I’m genuinely stunned that this appeal against sentence has not been successful. [The family] have never called for a custodial sentence and only sought a lifetime driving ban, which would have been appropriate in the circumstances. To the credit of the Crown Office, they listened to the 6000 people who wrote in calling for an appeal, and it’s just appalling that it wasn’t successful. The law always has a degree of flexibility with regards to sentencing and, looking at the facts of the case, I’m shocked that it wasn’t found to be too lenient.”
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.”
Mrs Fyfe had been a member of CTC Lothians since 1954 and many of the mourners who turned out to pay their respects to the former Portobello High classroom assistant pedalled their way to the funeral.
The case galvanised the cycling community into action demanding a review of the lenient sentence.
After his conviction, it emerged McCourt had previously been jailed for knocking down and killing George Dalgity, 22, as he cycled along Regent Road on October 18, 1985. His family also joined the calls and wrote to Sheriff Scott urging him to hand down a long jail sentence.
Speaking after the case, McCourt’s solicitor Robert Fairbairn said his client was remorseful for causing Mrs Fyfe’s death. He said McCourt had expressed his condolences to her family. Mr Fairbairn said he felt Sheriff Scott’s decision was right.
Mr Fairbairn added: “Mr McCourt has continually expressed remorse for causing the death of Mrs Fyfe.
“He expressed remorse at the accident scene, during his police interview and during his trial. I think the Crown succumbed to external pressure from the cycling lobby in order to bring this appeal to court.”
Man jailed for stealing charity box
THE ruling by appeal court judges that they would not hand out a tougher sentence to killer driver Gary McCourt has sparked outrage.
The decision not to jail the 49-year-old for causing death by careless driving contrasts with the punishment meted out to other criminals in recent months who found themselves behind bars.
On August 30, a dad was jailed for 165 days after admitting stealing a charity collection box from St John’s Hospital where he was celebrating the birth of his second child.
Serial offender William Baxter, 36, admitted stealing the Poppy Scotland box from the Livingston hospital on November 12 last year before being jailed at the town’s sheriff court by Sheriff Martin Edington.
On the same day, Caroline McDonald was jailed for 120 days at the same court for posting heroin to her husband in jail. The 37-year-old claimed she was acting under duress when she mailed the class A drug to Addiewell inmate Gary McDonald.
Livingston Sheriff Court heard that she was filing for divorce at the time of the offence.
Susan Taylor, 32, was jailed for 16 months on August 13 after admitting punching a teenager and trying to steal a handbag after spending the day drinking super-strength lager.
The 32-year-old launched an attack on 19-year-old Alice Kelly in the Meadows, before demanding cash from the victim on May 19 this year.
Donald Boyd was jailed for eight months at Livingston Sheriff Court on August 1 after admitting chasing a man down the street with a knife.
Lord Menzies, 60, appointed a judge in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary in 2001. Educated at the independent Cargilfield Preparatory School. In May 2007 sentenced serial killer Peter Tobin to life imprisonment.
Lord Glennie, 62, appointed a judge in the Court of Session and High Court in 2005. Educated at Sherborne School in Dorset, and at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University. In 2009 ruled two Edinburgh clubs were not in competition as one was “studenty” and the other “cheesy”.
Lady Dorrian, 56, appointed a judge in the Court of Session and High Court in 2005. Born Edinburgh and educated at Cranley Girls’ School. In 2012 sentenced Jay Soso to 12 years in prison for the rape and culpable homicide of OAP Marie Reid at her Drylaw home in 2010.