SENTENCING STATEMENTS

 

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HMA v Michael Hall

 

Nov 27, 2020

At the High Court in Glasgow today Lord Braid sentenced Michael Hall to 4 years imprisonment and disqualified him from driving for 7 years and 4 months after the accused pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and to a charge of driving with excess alcohol in his body.

On sentencing Lord Braid made the following statement in court:

“Michael Hall, you have pled guilty to causing the death of Malcolm Alexander Easton by your dangerous driving on 2 May 2019, on the M74 northbound carriageway, near junction 10 at Lesmahagow. You overtook the lorry being driven by Mr Easton, which was travelling in the nearside lane at a speed of 60mph, within the speed limit.  You pulled out from behind the lorry without indicating, causing another vehicle to brake, before you accelerated to a speed of up to 89mph, in order to carry out your overtaking manoeuvre. The driving conditions were treacherous, due to heavy rain, and there was standing water on the carriageway.  While you were overtaking, you braked, causing you to lose control of your vehicle which spun, colliding with Mr Easton’s lorry, causing it in turn to jack-knife, break through the crash barrier at the side of the carriageway and travel 40 metres down a steep embankment.  It transpired that you had previously consumed alcohol to the extent that the proportion of it in your breath when you were breathalysed following the accident was 47 microgrammes of alcohol per 100ml of breath, more than twice the legal limit. Police officers, when they arrived, found you bleary-eyed and could smell alcohol on your breath. You have also pled guilty to a charge of driving with excess alcohol in your body.

The accident resulted in the tragic death of Mr Easton at the scene.  He is survived by his loving wife, brother, parents and step-daughter.  Their victim impact statements all eloquently and movingly describe the immense loss and pain which they have suffered. His death has left a void in their lives which can never be filled, and no sentence that I can pass could possibly begin to address that void or to heal the pain caused.

You do not appear as a first offender.  In particular you have on your record two previous contraventions of the Road Traffic Act although I accept these are now of some age.

Senior counsel has submitted on your behalf that there was an unfortunate combination of circumstances, in particular, the unknown effect of a wave of water displaced from the southbound carriageway onto the northbound carriageway, and the fact that at that section of the motorway was a steep embankment.  You had not been driving at 89mph for a sustained period of time, but had accelerated to that speed in order to get past the lorry as quickly as possible, due to the driving conditions and impaired visibility from spray thrown up by the lorry.  You were driving a car with which you were unfamiliar.  In relation to the alcohol in your body, your position is that you had been drinking into the early hours of that morning following a football match. 

Through your counsel, you have expressed deep remorse for causing Mr Easton’s death and for the pain caused to Mr Easton’s family.  That your remorse is genuine is confirmed by the Criminal Justice Social Work report which has been prepared and by one of the two character references tendered on your behalf.  The Criminal Justice Social Work Report and the character references also describe you as kind, hard-working and conscientious and you do appear to have genuine insight to the consequences of your actions.  I also take into account the effect the fatal collision has had on you, although as you acknowledge, that is as nothing compared to the effect it has had on Mr Easton’s family. 

However, there are two factors, in particular, which make a custodial sentence inevitable.  The first is the extremely high speed at which you were travelling, in treacherous road conditions.  While the actual loss of control due to water on the carriageway may not have been down to any lack of skill on your part, it must or ought to have been obvious to you that to overtake at that speed, in those conditions, was highly dangerous and might result in such loss of control.  Your driving cannot be categorised, merely, as failing to adapt to the road conditions, when you were in any event driving some 20mph in excess of the speed limit.  Rather, the danger inherent in driving at that speed was exacerbated by the road conditions.   Nor do I consider that any mitigation is afforded by a desire to get past the lorry as quickly as possible, to reduce the time that your visibility was hindered by spray from the lorry.  That does not provide any justification for driving at the speed you were doing.

The second factor, to which I attach considerable weight, is the prior consumption of alcohol.   On any view, if your drinking stopped in the early hours of that morning, you must have consumed a copious amount of alcohol, and having done so it was incumbent upon you not to drive again until you could safely and legally do so; and the fact is that your ability to drive safely was impaired by the level of alcohol still in your body when you chose to drive.  Those factors point towards a significant custodial sentence.

In selecting an appropriate sentence, I am entitled to have regard to the sentencing guideline issued by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, provided I do not apply that guideline in a mechanistic way.  Taking the dangerously excessive speed and the consumption of alcohol into account, I assess your driving as having given rise to a substantial risk of danger, which places it within level 2 of the guideline.  For such an offence, the guideline suggests a starting point of 5 years imprisonment with a range of 4 to 7 years. 

While powerful mitigation has been pled on your behalf, which I take into account, I consider that it is to a large extent outweighed by the gravity of the offence, and, in particular by the fact you drove with excess alcohol in your body.  It is also tempered, to some extent, by the fact that you have twice before breached the Road Traffic legislation.  I therefore place the offence towards the upper end of the suggested range.  Had you been found guilty after trial, I would have imposed a sentence of 6 years imprisonment.  You have made clear your intention to plead guilty from an early stage, and you are entitled to a discounted sentence to take into account the utilitarian value of your plea.  I will reduce the sentence by one third, resulting in a sentence of 4 years imprisonment, backdated to 2 November 2020.

On charge 2, the drink driving charge, I will impose a custodial sentence of 4 months (discounted from 6), to run concurrently.

I would also have disqualified you from driving for 8 years, had you been found guilty after trial.  That also falls to be reduced by one third, to 5 years and 4 months by virtue of your guilty plea.  However because of your incarceration, it then falls to have added to it an extension period equal to half of your custodial sentence, by virtue of section 35C of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.  That extension period is 2 years, resulting in a total period of disqualification of 7 years and 4 months.  You will require to sit and pass the extended test of competence before you will be entitled to regain your licence.  That disqualification is also imposed in respect of charge 2.”