JUDGES deliberating whether to increase the sentence given to killer motorist Gary McCourt need to “protect other families” and ban him from the roads for life, his victim’s daughter said today.
Prosecutors demanded a minimum eight-month jail sentence and a lifetime driving ban for McCourt during a hearing before the appeal court judges yesterday.
McCourt escaped with 300 hours of community service and a five-year road ban after causing the death of 75-year-old cyclist Audrey Fyfe by careless driving. Now her daughter, Linda Hamilton, has urged judges to remove McCourt from the road forever to prevent another tragedy.
The outraged 45-year-old said: “The easiest way to improve public safety would be to take him off the road. It would protect other families and seems quite simple. We don’t want another family to go through what we did.”
The News told how a sheriff’s sentencing of McCourt back in May sparked fury. The 49-year-old received his slap on the wrists despite being previously caged for two years for the identical crime of knocking down and killing cyclist George Dalgity in 1985. At yesterday’s hearing, Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC argued that the sentence imposed by Sheriff James Scott was “unduly lenient”.
Sheriff Scott had said that Mrs Fyfe “contributed significantly” to her own death because she was not wearing a helmet – a safety measure not required by law.
However, Ms Thomson said the sheriff “erred” when he “took into account the wearing of a cycling helmet which he was not entitled to take into account”. She also argued that the sheriff also failed to give “sufficient weight” to McCourt’s previous convictions. And the prosecutor contended that McCourt’s careless driving when he knocked down Mrs Fyfe between Portobello Road and Craigentinny Avenue on August 11, 2011 had not been properly considered.
She added: “If he had looked before commencing the manoeuvre then he would have been alerted to the presence of Mrs Fyfe.”
Daughter Linda is outraged at criticism her mother failed to wear a helmet. She said: “Wearing a safety helmet is not a legal requirement so it should not have been given the weight the sheriff did during sentencing. He seemed to take it upon himself to decide that.”
She added: “We as a family do not believe [McCourt] has shown any remorse. If you feel remorse you would plead guilty. We’ve never received a letter from him saying sorry or a message through Victim Support.”
Mrs Fyfe’s widow, John, is campaigning for a change in the law to make a lifetime road ban mandatory for anyone convicted of causing death by careless or dangerous driving.
The 81-year-old is set to meet with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to discuss the matter once the judges make their decision.
Mr Fyfe, of Coillesdene Crescent, Joppa, said: “If someone is found guilty of killing a vulnerable road user, like a pedestrian or cyclist, then they should receive a lifetime ban from driving.
“In this case, my wife was the second person to be killed by the same driver, which shows you that the law doesn’t work at the moment. Changing the law would send out a clear message to careless drivers that losing their licence would be mandatory.”
The family is backed by CTC, the National Cycling Charity. Members were in court to listen to the debate. Their Road Justice campaign dovetails with the Fyfe family’s concerns. It is calling for thorough police investigations of road traffic collisions, better charging and prosecution decisions, and sentences that reflect the severity of the offence committed and discourage bad driving.
Rhia Weston, Road Justice campaign co-ordinator at CTC, said: “We hope the Fyfe family get justice for what happened to Audrey and that a clear message is sent to all drivers that driving which puts cyclists’ lives in danger will not be tolerated.”
McCourt was convicted after a trial. His defence advocate, Herbert Kerrigan QC, told yesterday’s hearing the emphasis on the absence of a safety helmet was a “matter of applying judicial common sense”.
He added there was “evidence that the cyclist was not visible because she was obscured by a bus” and his client had tried to swerve to avoid hitting Mrs Fyfe before he “clipped” her rear wheel, causing her to fall over.
Judges Lord Menzies, Lord Glennie and Lady Dorrian are to issue a written judgement within weeks.
Two deaths 16 years apart
The Evening News has led the way on the dramatic story. Here are some key dates in how it has unfolded:
October 18, 1985: McCourt knocks down and kills 22-year-old student cyclist George Dalgity on Regent Road.
1986: McCourt is sentenced to two years in prison and given a ten-year driving ban.
2003: McCourt re-applies for a driving licence.
August 11, 2011: McCourt knocks down and kills cyclist Audrey Fyfe at the junction between Portobello Road and Craigentinny Avenue.
April 8, 2013: McCourt is found guilty of causing Mrs Fyfe’s death by careless driving.
May 3, 2013: McCourt is given a community payback order by Sheriff James Scott.
May 31, 2013: The Crown appeals against the sentence.