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HMA v Robert Brown


Apr 10, 2024

At the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Scott sentenced Robert Brown to 6 years imprisonment after the offender pled guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

On sentencing Lord Scott made the following remarks in court:

" On 25 January, you pled guilty to a charge that, on 10 October 2021, you caused the death of James Morrison Harris by driving your car dangerously and, having consumed so much alcohol that you were unfit to drive, you drove at an excessive speed, failed to react to the presence of Mr Harris, who was then a pedestrian on the roadway, and caused your car to collide with him, whereby Mr Harris was so severely injured that he died there and you thereafter failed to stop or report the collision, and continued to drive while your vehicle was in an unsafe condition due to the windscreen being damaged to such extent that no clear view through it.

At the time, you were on bail from 3 September 2021.

Mr Harris was clearly a much loved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. His death has devastated those who knew him and has a continuing impact on their mental health.

I have read the touching Victim Impact Statements from his wife, daughter and sister.

His wife speaks movingly about her life with Mr Harris for 40 years and the joy that they were experiencing as parents and grandparents. I note that his death robbed him of the opportunity to meet their 2 youngest grandchildren and for him and his family to celebrate the latest arrivals together. His death thwarted Mrs Harris’s plans with Mr Harris to enjoy their retirement with their family and through the travel that was also such an important part of their lives. Mrs Harris feels her loss every day when she is unable to share the day’s events with Mr Harris.

His daughter speaks of her continuing sense of loss, saying “I  used  to  speak  to my  dad   every  day  and now that I  don’t  have  the  option  to  just  text  him  and  speak to   him  on  the  phone brings  me  great  sadness  and  disbelief  still  to  this  day”. She felt the loss especially when she had her first child.

His sister speaks of the daily heartache and pain through the loss of her big brother. She mentions his proud service in the Royal Navy. She paints a vivid picture of the fun Mr Harris brought into her life and the lives of the others who knew him.

These 3 statements confirm the profound impact of your crime.

Before passing sentence, I ordered a Criminal Justice Social Work Report. The report provides me with background information about you.

The CJSWR says: “During the interview, Mr Brown presented as genuinely and visibly upset when discussing the index offence. He accepted full responsibility for his actions which ultimately led to the death of an individual and made no attempt to minimise or justify any of his actions. Mr Brown presented with a high level of victim empathy, remorse and regret for his behaviour. He reported wishing that he could apologise to the victim’s family, acknowledging that this would not change the outcome.”

I have also read 2 character references. These speak highly of you and serve to make your current position all the more regrettable.

I have read the psychological assessment dated 8 April.

This report gives me more information about your diagnosis of Combined Type ADHD which was made only after the events which bring you here. It also provides detail of the significant impact upon you of what you have done. You seem to genuinely appreciate the lasting effects on Mr Harris’s family and you naturally understand the effect on your own family, in particular your daughter.

Significantly, as rightly acknowledged by Mr Lenehan, Dr Doyle confirms that your excessive consumption of alcohol that night was likely the primary reason for any difficulties in your decision to drive and the impairment of your ability to do so.

You consumed sufficient alcohol to give you a reading which was 3 times the drink/drive limit. By your plea, you accepted that it was an amount which made you unfit to drive.

At the time of the offence, you were 24 years old although you are now 27. The Guidelines for Sentencing Young People are therefore not applicable. I take into account, however, that you appear to have had an undiagnosed condition or conditions which may have contributed to you feeling overwhelmed and making impulsive and entirely inappropriate choices. Bearing in mind what Dr Doyle said, however, and as acknowledged by Mr Lenehan, I consider that your excessive consumption of alcohol was the primary reason for what you did.

For the avoidance of doubt, I attach no weight to your previous convictions and will not increase the sentence in respect of the bail aggravation.

I have considered and take into account the terms of the CJSWR and all that has been carefully said on your behalf today by Mr Lenehan.  He has rightly acknowledged the gravity of the charge and the inevitability of a custodial sentence.  He has submitted that your remorse is genuine.  I am prepared to accept that. He rightly emphasised your early plea of guilty which is a significant aspect of mitigation.

He acknowledged what is indicated from the Guidelines for this case, namely that there is a significant level of culpability or blame due to your impairment due to alcohol consumption, driving at excessive speed, and continuing to drive an unsafe vehicle for a long distance while you were in an unfit condition. Nonetheless, he maintained that the case could be placed in category B for seriousness, even where more than 1 category B factor was present. If the case were to be placed in category A, it would fall towards the lower end of the relevant range.

Having regard to the whole circumstances of the case, in particular the gravity of the charge, only a custodial sentence is appropriate.  It is necessary to punish you and to seek to deter you and others from behaving in this way and in particular to protect the public from you.

Had you committed the offence only 9 months later, the maximum sentence would have been life imprisonment.  At the time, the maximum sentence was 14 years imprisonment. The Scottish Sentencing Council has now produced the first offence-specific set of guidelines for offences of causing death by driving of different types. That includes the offence to which you have pled guilty.

Applying those guidelines, while aspects of the case may be in categories B or C, taken together I consider that your offence is in level A for seriousness due to your level of impairment, driving at excessive speed, failing to stop and continuing to drive for a considerable distance while you and your car were unsafe to be on the road. For that level of seriousness the guidelines suggest a range of 7 to 12 years as the headline sentence. Driving away and completing your journey after knowing that you had been in a serious collision makes matters more serious.

I take into account your remorse which I accept is genuine.

I will start with the question of disqualification which is important although not the most significant part of the sentence I will impose.

Having disqualified you on an interim basis on the last occasion, I now disqualify you from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of 12 years and until you pass the extended driving test. This period includes an extension period of 3 years to reflect the length of the prison sentence.

For the family and friends of Mr Harris, I emphasise that the sentence I impose now is in no way intended to represent a measure or valuation of Mr Harris’s life. No sentence could ever do that.

If you had been convicted after trial, I would have imposed a sentence of 9 years imprisonment.

You pled guilty at an early stage by way of specific procedure to accelerate matters.  I must and do recognise that there is a utilitarian value - that is primarily that there was a saving of court time - and I will therefore reduce the sentence by 30%.  The sentence will therefore be 6 years imprisonment. That sentence will date from 25 January 2024.”

 10 April 2024