Campaigners call for action against the chronic leniency of Scottish courts in dealing with killer drivers

A Scottish woman whose mother was killed by a driver who had previously killed a cyclist has called for tougher punishments.
 Picture; contributed
A Scottish woman whose mother was killed by a driver who had previously killed a cyclist has called for tougher punishments. Picture; contributed
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THEir relationship as mum and daughter went further than most – they were best friends too.

“Mum and I lived in each other’s pockets,” said Aileen Brown. “Dealing with her death left me completely empty.”

Her mum Audrey Fyfe, 75, was killed when a car clipped her wheel as she cycled near Portobello in August 2011.

The driver, Gary McCourt, was banned from driving for just five years and given 300 hours of community service – even though he had been found guilty of killing another cyclist on the roads 25 years earlier.

Aileen today called for tougher punishments for death drivers after an investigation by the News, i and our sister titles.

It details for the first time what campaigners argue is the chronic leniency of the courts in dealing with killer drivers.

The findings will increase the pressure on the Scottish and UK governments to revise sentencing rules for dangerous driving offences.

Data shows that, in the years since the Scottish Parliament increased the maximum sentence from ten to 14 years in jail, the average sentence for 149 motorists convicted of death by dangerous in Scotland has been only 4.8 years.

Earlier this year, the family of city nurse Jill Pirrie hit out after teen driver Dylan Jenkin was jailed for six years after mowing her down as she walked home from work.

Audrey was riding down the street in a cycle lane when McCourt turned right across her path and clipped her wheel. She died two days later.

McCourt had been found guilty in 1986 of causing another cyclist’s death by reckless driving.

But a judge spared McCourt prison because there were no aggravating factors, such as drink or drug abuse.

He said that McCourt “repeatedly expressed genuine remorse” and displayed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, Mrs Fyfe’s daughter Aileen disagrees strongly with the final sentence.

“Mum and I lived in each other’s pockets, we weren’t just mother and daughter we were very much best friends,” she said. “We used to go on holiday every year together. We would ride each other’s bikes and wear each other’s clothes.

“We were so much a part of each other’s lives, it was very unusual. And when mum was killed my initial reaction was she had died doing something she loved.”

She added: “Mum was such a colourful vibrant person. After her death so many people said ‘I have lost my best friend’.”

Her mother was involved in the local church, cycling group, flower arranging group and local gym.

“For a 75-year-old she loved nothing more than coming from a ride on her bike and going to the swimming pool and relaxing with a few lengths up and down the pool,” Aileen said. “Dealing with her death was, I thought, the worst thing I would ever have to deal with.

“No matter what happened in life, whether something was going well or something was wrong or something I needed some support on, mum was always the first one I spoke to.

“When I lost her I just completely lost that – I didn’t really realise when I had her how much she meant to me.”

At the end of McCourt’s trial for killing Mrs Fyfe, it was revealed that he had previously killed a 22-year-old cyclist and been given a ten-year driving ban.

“That was one of the most devastating things,” Aileen said. “There such a big outcry – thousands and thousands of people wrote to the Procurator Fiscal and as a result of that we had an appeal.

“But the conclusion was that the sentence given had not been outside the bounds of the recommended penalties.

“But to us the worst thing is that this chap is going to be able to drive again.”

One major issue for her is that McCourt was driving around for two years between her mum’s death and his later conviction and driving ban.

The second is that he will be back on the roads five years after his ban ends, in 2018.

Aileen said: “I just don’t understand – how many people does he have to kill before society or the judiciary see it as appropriate that he should not be driving?

“If someone had a similar offence with firearms they would not be given a firearms licence back – or if they worked with children and were found guilty of inappropriate behaviour we would not allow them to go back to teaching.

“So why are we allowing someone to go back to driving where the car is like a weapon for them?”

McCourt was on his way to pick up a takeaway meal when he hit her mother’s bike.

Her 84-year-old father Iain, from Joppa, has been left “totally bereft”. He and his wife Audrey did “everything” together.

“His blood pressure has gone up, he has suffered from stress, he has got eczema which is exacerbated or caused by stress and a series of strokes,” Aileen added.

“Prison is a very expensive remedy but all we ever wanted – it seems a straightforward solution – is that McCourt should never be able to drive again.”

100 death drivers walk free

ALMOST 100 people convicted of killing on Scottish roads have walked free from court since 2005, with the average sentences for death by dangerous driving being only 4.8 years, an investigation can reveal today.

Grief-stricken families expressing disappointment outside courts following the sentencing of motorists whose reckless behaviour has claimed almost 300 lives in Scotland since 2005 have become a familiar sight.

But figures obtained from the Scottish Government can now lay bare the full extent of the disparities in the way the law and criminal justice system is dealing with drivers, some of them under the influence of drink and drugs, who are responsible for deaths described by the bereaved as “feeling like murder”.

Data obtained from the Scottish Government shows that a total of 98 people convicted of death by dangerous or careless driving in Scotland since 2005 have walked free from court. Of that total, 77 received community service. In 21 cases, the offender escaped with only a fine while two were released with “admonishments”.

The Scottish Sentencing Council, which was established in October last year and is to review death by dangerous driving, said its primary objective is to promote a better understanding of how sentences are decided.

A spokeswoman said: “The circumstances in these cases are often complicated and this can lead to extremely challenging sentencing decisions. The guideline will assist people better to understand the factors taken into account when sentences are decided.”

Just what are we lobbying for in this new campaign?

Around five people are killed on our roads across the United Kingdom daily with devastated families often angered that those responsible avoid jail or face minor custodial sentences of three to five years or less.

The Drive For Justice campaign by the Evening News, the i and its sister Johnston Press papers across the country aims to give anguished families who have lost loved ones to reckless and criminal driving a voice for fairer sentencing.

Our campaign calls on the Scottish and UK governments to:

n Re-work sentencing guidelines and provide specialist training for judges so they can use the full powers that are available to them when deciding sentences for offenders

n Give tougher sentences for the worst offenders

n Have all culpable deaths treated as culpable homicide

n Have more – and longer – driving bans handed out to those who kill or seriously injure on the roads, or whose driving risks injury and death

n Examine how people are often prosecuted for the lesser charge of death by “careless” driving rather than death by “dangerous” driving. Families often feel the lesser “careless” charge undermines the severity of the offence when someone is killed or seriously injured.

n Have even tougher sentences for those who offend while drink or drug driving, using excessive speed, are disqualified /unlicensed, or who are driving while using their mobile phones.