The devastated parents of three schoolfriends killed in a tragic crash caused by a teenage driver say they hope the tragedy will help to send a message to other young motorists.
The families of Dunbar Grammar School pupils Jenna Barbour, 18, David Armstrong, 15, and 16-year-old Joshua Stewart watched yesterday as Robbie Gemmell, 17, avoided a jail term at Edinburgh Sheriff Court over the crash on November 25 last year. The court heard how Gemmell told his best friend he loved him as he died before his eyes on a rural road near Tyninghame, East Lothian.
He was banned from driving for four years over the crash and ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work.
A statement issued by David’s mother, Andrea Kelly, following the sentence said: “We hope every young person listening to and reading this realises what the awful consequences of irresponsible driving can be.
“Getting behind the wheel of a car is not a game. The results, when it goes wrong, are permanent and real. Young people need to take every step they can to make sure they are safe drivers.”
The statement added: “No family should have to go through what we have all gone through. No parent should have to bury their child.”
Gemmell had initially claimed Jenna – who owned the car – had been driving at the time of the fatal crash, but later admitted he was at the wheel when the Peugeot 206 hit a wall.
A packed public gallery heard yesterday that the tragedy has had a devastating effect on Gemmell, who was 16 at the time.
Haunted by the responsibility for the death of three of his friends, defence QC John Scott said Gemmell suffered post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts.
Mr Scott said the teenager had been so devastated by grief that he had lost three stones in weight since the incident.
The defence lawyer said nothing he said was meant to detract from the “immeasurable” grief of the victims’ relatives, adding that the whole community of Dunbar had been affected by the tragedy.
“This building has been open for a great number of years but there can’t in all of that time have been a more tragic or difficult case,” said Mr Scott, who said first offender Gemmell was unlikely to break the law again.
He added: “Robbie Gemmell will live forever with the fact that he is responsible for the death of three young people, including his best friend.
“If it is of any comfort, the last words Joshua ever heard were Robbie Gemmell shouting that he loved him.”
The comment provoked muffled cries from the victims’ families, some of whom sobbed throughout the hour-long hearing.
Gemmell looked at the floor and wept in the dock during Mr Scott’s presentation, before Sheriff Gordon Liddle retired to consider the 17-year-old’s sentence.
After a wait of more than half an hour, Sheriff Liddle gave a moving statement which said the devastation to the family members of all concerned and the Dunbar community was “palpable”.
Sheriff Liddle had been persuaded against jailing Gemmell and instead ordered him to carry out unpaid community work within a year.
He said the application of that facet of the law meant if Gemmell was jailed, he could be released in a few months.
He said Gemmell was entitled to a sentence reduction as his early plea had prevented witnesses having to give evidence in a “harrowing” trial.
He added: “No-one could fail to be moved by the tragic loss of these young promising lives in such avoidable circumstances.
“I extend my personal sympathy to those bereaved. I hope and pray that in time there may be some peace and healing for them and for the wider community.”
Sheriff Liddle said Gemmell would also be supervised by the authorities for two years.
He added: “It has emerged that you were not the only teenager ever to get a shot of driving. You were encouraged to be and were the first that night.
“But that does not detract from the responsibility upon you and the choice you made to drive the car, nor the manner in which you drove it.”
Sheriff Liddle said it was clear from the recording of Gemmell’s frantic phone call to the emergency services that he did “everything he possibly could” to help his injured friends.
“Tragically your efforts were in vain and all three of your friends died,” he said. “This is a very serious matter.
“I cannot begin to measure the loss of a life and make no attempt to do so.
“However, it is important for the public to understand that this is not a case involving the much more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving.
“This offence relates to an accident caused by lack of care and attention but one with fatal consequences for not one but three young people.
“It would not be possible to overstate the consequences of your choice of actions. Parents and extended family members of the three victims are having to cope with the pain and distress of their loss.”
Gemmell, of Wilson Place, Dunbar, pleaded guilty last month before Sheriff Liddle to causing the deaths of David, Jenna and Joshua by driving a car without due care and attention at Limetree Walk, near Tyninghame. Accident investigators estimated that the Peugeot was travelling at a minimum of 50 to 54 miles per hour in the moments before the crash, which happened at around 8pm.
When police arrived, Gemmell told officers that he was a front seat passenger and had not been wearing a seat belt at the time.
Gemmell, who was treated at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for concussion and a broken rib, later broke down and confessed to his father that he had been driving at the time of the fatal crash.
Several memorials have been set up by the families of the victims since the tragedy.
A memorial garden has been created near the scene of the incident, while a bench was also put in place outside the former Abbeylands Church on Dunbar High Street.
A tree has been planted and a bench installed in the nearby village of Stenton, where Josh grew up, and his family have also created a rugby trophy in his memory.
David’s mother. Andrea Kelly. held a music concert in Dunbar as a “thank you” to the community for its support following the tragedy.
A memorial football match held earlier this month had already raised around £5000. All money raised from the memorial events will be donated to local charities in David’s name.