In August 2011, 75 year old Audrey Fyfe was cycling in Edinburgh when her bike was struck by a car driven by Gary McCourt. Mrs Fyfe somersaulted through the air, hit the ground, and died in hospital two days later. Mr McCourt was found guilty of causing death by reckless driving and was sentenced to 300 hours of community service, and given a 5 year driving ban.
Reasonable for a first offence that resulted in someone’s death? Mrs Fyfe’s family said they didn’t think a prison sentence would help and they wanted McCourt to get a lifetime driving ban. Some people might agree that he got an appropriate sentence for a first offence.
But this wasn’t a first offence. In 1985 Gary McCourt struck and killed a cyclist, George Dalgity, in Edinburgh, only about a mile from where he would later hit Audrey Fyfe. McCourt’s car struck George Dalgity so hard he was thrown to the other side of the road. He didn’t stop to help – he scarpered. He was caught, convicted of careless driving and sentenced to two years in jail although George’s family believe he only served 8 months. He was also given a 10 year driving ban. He didn’t learn from it though, did he?
If I had killed a cyclist through careless driving, I’m not sure I’d ever want to get behind the wheel of a car again. But if I did, you can bet I’d pay a bit more attention around cyclists in the future. There would be no “momentary lapses of concentration.” I would be giving them as much room as I possibly could because I would not want to kill again. George McCourt, however, didn’t seem to care that his reckless actions had killed once, and he went on to kill again.
And all he got for it was 300 hours of community service and a five year driving ban. He should not be allowed control of so much as a spacehopper for the rest of his life, let alone a car. He’s shown twice that he can’t be trusted to drive safely. And given that when he hit George Dalgity, he ran, do you think he’d have stopped if he’d hit Audrey Fyfe in the wee small hours instead of the busy early evening?
The Sheriff who presided over the trial should be ashamed of the ridiculously lenient sentence he passed, and he should be ashamed of his sentencing remarks.
I take into account that the accused has repeatedly expressed genuine remorse for causing the death of Mrs Fyfe.
I take into account that the accused has been ill and has suffered from depression and that he displays signs of post traumatic stress disorder.
Mrs Fyfe wasn’t to blame in any way for the accident. However, she was not wearing a safety helmet and that, in my view, contributed to her death.
Where to start with those remarks? Gary McCourt might be genuinely remorseful. I have my doubts. Did he not feel genuinely remorseful after he killed George Dalgity? Because if he did, you’d think he’d have been taking a bit more care. McCourt has been ill, depressed and has signs of PTSD? That must be horrible for him, but those things, like Audrey Fyfe’s death and George Dalgity’s death, are a result of his actions, and he should be sentenced according to the offence he committed, not how unwell he feels afterwards. Mrs Fyfe wasn’t to blame in any way for the accident. No, she wasn’t. Gary McCourt was entirely to blame for hitting and killing her. (I hesitate to call it an accident because that implies it couldn’t have been prevented, when clearly the collision could have been prevented if McCourt didn’t drive like an arsehole). And as for the helmet remark – Audrey Fyfe’s lack of helmet did not contribute to her death. What contributed to her death was being hit by a car. Bike helmets are only effective in low impact collisions – the sort of thing that happens if you topple over sideways while stationary. For anything faster than that, they’re useless, and possibly worse than useless (the slidey shiny smooth surface of a helmet can cause the head within it to scoot rapidly across the ground, causing shearing injuries to the neck). There’s lots of evidence about the effectiveness and non-effectiveness of bike helmets, most of it contradictory and lots of it poor quality, but even the helmet manufacturers themselves say their helmets only protect in low-speed impacts. Somersaulting through the air and landing on your head on tarmac is not a low speed impact and wearing a helmet would have made no difference.
Sheriff James Scott was wrong to state that Mrs Fyfe contributed to her own death, and if he took that false belief into account when sentencing, he has been overly lenient. The only person who contributed to Audrey Fyfe’s death was Gary McCourt and Sheriff Scott has done her (and George Dalgity) a massive injustice by not banning him from driving for life. But then, he has form for taking the side of the motorist against the cyclist they kill or injure.