Road Justice for the Codling family?

* What is this story about?

Eric Codling, 55, was killed whilst cycling up Whirlowdale Rd to Abbey Rd in Sheffield, UK on Sun 3 Nov 2013

Emma Egan, 26, had pleaded guilty on 5 July 2014 at Sheffield Crown Court to

  • causing his death by dangerous driving
  • driving over the prescribed alcohol limit
  • leaving the scene of a RTC
  • failing to report a RTC

She was sentenced on 17 July 2014, again at Sheffield Crown Court, to

  • 4 yrs in gaol (half in confinement, the other half she may serve on licence)
  • a 6yr driving ban and her driving licence to be released on passing an extended driving test

* What was the prosecution evidence?

The defendant

Egan, a self-employed beautician, had no previous driving convictions, a clean driving licence and her car was taxed, insured and had no mechanical defects.

The collision

At approx 8 am on Sun 3 Nov 2014 she was driving a black Astra in pursuit of a blue BMW which contained Liam Dent and Azad Khan down Whirlowdale Rd from the Ecclesall Rd direction and onto Abbey Lane.  Both cars were travelling at an average speed of 69mph as estimated from residents’ CCTV.  The speed limit on this section of Whirlowdale Rd is 40mph.  Eric Codling was cycling up Whirlowdale Rd from the Abbeydale Rd direction, well within the left hand carriageway and wearing a hi-viz vest, towards Abbey Lane.  He was perfectly visible to all the eye witnesses.

The driver of the BMW turned from Abbey Lane to continue down the middle of Whirlowdale Rd towards Abbeydale Rd with Egan following in the black Astra no more that 2s behind.  She lost control of her car on the turn.  The car spun across the road, and collided head-on with Eric who was on his bicycle.  The bike was crushed as her car ran over it and Eric was knocked off his bike and his body thrown into the verge and woods.

Egan’s car stopped across the verge and the road and she got out shouting, “He’s dead” to the occupants of the other vehicle which had also stopped.  The other car was reversed to Egan.  Egan was encouraged to get in, which she did, and then the BMW was driven back to Dent’s home at 7 Whirlow Green, S11.

Eye witnesses were left to attend to Eric and call emergency services.  He was dead at the scene and the death was confirmed at hospital.   It is estimated from the extensive injuries to his chest that he died almost instantaneously.

The investigation

The evidence of the witness statements quickly led investigating police to Dent’s home and they told his mother what had happened.  Egan was sitting at a table eyes wide open, shaking, and rocking on the seat.  When the PO told her that Eric was dead she cried out, “Oh my God, what have I done? I’m so sorry” and fell to the floor and was sick.  She was arrested for causing death by dangerous driving.  At 8.54 she failed a breath test and was arrested for driving over the prescribed alcohol limit.  She was taken to a police station and at 9.47 she was tested on an intoximeter and her breath was shown to contain 57mg alcohol in 100ml of breath (the limit on this measure is 35mg of alcohol). She was later charged with leaving the scene of a RTC and failing to report a RTC.

Egan’s evidence

Egan had come to Sheffield to see Dent.  They had been going out with each other for a short time.  She said that she had previously drunk at most ¾ of a bottle of wine.   She had had an argument outside Dent’s house (with Khan present) where Dent had told her that their relationship was over.  He and Kahn then drove away and she said that she followed in pursuit to find out or confirm what he had said.  Dent in interview had said that she was pursuing them.  She said she didn’t see Eric cycling towards her and she stopped when she hit him as had the BMW.  Her statements as told to POs concur with what eye witnesses saw.

How has it affected Eric’s family?

The prosecution read out impact statements from members of Eric’s family.

Karen, his widow, described how they had met in the late 90s and spoke about their initial attraction through their mutual love of sports and their consequent deep love and care for each other. Eric had supported and cared for her through her sickness with cancer, they had chosen to have children together and he was a caring, even besotted dad with their two daughters.  He was an active sportsman, cycling, running, and going to the gym, and a keen photographer.  His contribution to family life had enabled Karen to develop her own career. She had lost her lover, her soulmate and she can’t imagine ever being able to feel again the closeness that she had with Eric. She still can’t believe he is gone.

Grace, his elder daughter, wrote about how her dad was sporty, told terrible jokes and took them out on activities like rock climbing.  She felt now that there was always something missing and that she was upset everyday she comes home and his car is not there in the drive.  She described how she has to “hold her feelings in all day and then it all comes out”  and her sister, Eve, has closed herself off.  She is angry and it is horrible that someone could do this.

His mother said that Eric was the fourth of six children.  Although he no longer lived in Middlesborough he had always stayed in close and frequent contact with his parents and his brothers and sisters.  His death had devastated the family and if she could she would swap places with him.

One of his two sisters spoke about her four lovely brothers. Eric was a loving, hard working man who was recklessly killed and taken from his family.  Recent photos of Karen and his daughters show the grief and pain they feel.  She imagined Eric seeing Egan coming towards him.  Egan had caused the taking of his life far too soon.  His daughter Grace had no dad to celebrate her first birthday after his death when she became a teenager.  Egan must never forget the pain she had caused.

* What did the defence say?

The defence barrister began by saying that the deceased’s family were foremost in everybody’s mind and that nothing he said would relieve the devastation, grief and pain they must feel since Eric’s death.  The terrible irony was that Egan’s own sister had been killed in a RTC and Egan understands how Eric’s family feel.

Eric had been an innocent, blameless victim.  Egan was deeply, profoundly sorry and fully remorseful.  She accepts full responsibility for what she did.

Having been dumped, jilted and told she was no longer required she should still have known better than to drive but her judgement was impaired by alcohol.  Driving too fast on unfamiliar roads unnecessarily caused this tragedy.  At the scene she was distraught and hysterical and the only mitigation may be that she was encouraged to leave the scene and ‘whisked away’ when she was still in shock.

None of this compares to the real loss of Eric but there is a sense in which Egan’s life also came to an end on that day.  She is still in shock, traumatised and self-loathing. Her personality has changed and she suffers from post-traumatic stress and she is on medication.  She is still learning to bear the guilt and she will have Eric’s family’s words ringing in her ears for the rest of her life.  It was acknowledged that her sentence must be a deterrent.  She accepted that she would go into custody and she will have to summon all her strength and courage to cope with that.

* What was the judgement?

The judge briefly went back over the evidence and impact statements. He stated that Egan had had medical reports that noted that she is remorseful, she understands how Eric’s family feel and that she is not someone who has shown anti-social behaviour before.

What mitigation was considered?

The judge noted that her car was taxed, insured and in good working order.  These were her first driving offences.

She accepted full responsibility.

She had pleaded guilty.

She had been remorseful by expressing profound regret and sorrow and showing understanding for the anguish, grief and pain she had caused.

But he did not accept in mitigation that she was “whisked away from the scene”.   Even if she may have been encouraged she had left the scene of her own free will.

What is the calculus of justice?

The judge thought that this was a level 2 offence of causing death by dangerous driving. The tariff for this level is 4-7yrs custodial and minimum 2yr driving ban.  This was a first offence by someone of previously good character in a sound vehicle so his view was that the sentencing should start at 4yrs in custody

But she left the scene so add 1yr then the sentence should be 5yrs

But she had accepted full responsibility and pleaded guilty so deduct 1yr for her cooperation and the avoidance of a trial

The sum is 4+1-1 so 4yrs custodial sentence.

See http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/sentencing_manual/death_by_dangerous_driving/

The driving ban of 6yrs reflects the fact that she was racing, she was impaired by alcohol, and she failed to stop at the scene or report the RTC

Is this just?

Is the process of sentencing sufficient?

Egan cooperated with the police investigations and pleaded guilty from the preliminary magistrates’ hearing.  Thus there was no need for a trial which would entail cross-examination of witnesses and evidence.  All charges against Khan and Dent have been dropped because of insufficient evidence.  If there had been a trial then they would have been cross-examined by both the Crown prosecution and Egan’s defence.  Their accounts of, and their roles in, Egan’s crimes and Eric’s death, are still not publicly examined.

The prosecution case did publicly state what had happened, and the evidence of witness statements and the police investigations.  The prosecution also gave full weight to the grief, anguish, pain, loss and damage to family members as testified in the impact statements.   The defence did not dispute the prosecution’s case.  The defence argued in mitigation that Egan was an enraged scorned woman who should have known better, she had no intention to kill Eric but that what was she did and she was now ill with remorse, shame and self-loathing.  The judge summed all this up, made Egan stand up as he sentenced her and then he explained his rationale for the sentence to the barristers.

Is this sentence sufficient?

I’m no expert in jurisprudence but like most of us I think how would I feel if a friend or member of my family was Eric or Egan? The sentence for the Egan’s crimes ought to

  • be a punishment for the guilty so she can feel the pain of the victims, Eric’s family, and the disapproval or condemnation of society
  • be a deterrent for all of us so that we are aware of the probable consequences for ourselves if we commit a similar crime
  • allow for rehabilitation of the guilty so that when she completes her sentence she is able not to repeat this behaviour and even redeem herself in some way

British justice, in a case like this, is concerned with determining the accused’s guilt or innocence with respect to the charges.  This court was not concerned with compensation for Eric’s family.  Compensation would be a matter for a civil court.  Obviously there is a sense that there is no compensation for the loss of Eric; he cannot be replaced.  But his family will have to bear the brunt of loss of future earnings and the cost of material support that Eric would have provided.  Egan’s guilt is not in dispute so Eric’s family will have a strong case for civil action for compensation from Egan or her insurers.  However they will have the responsibility to bring that action.

Contrary to what the judge said I think these are not Egan’s first driving offences; it is her first killing offence.  The offence is causing death by dangerous driving. As a layperson I don’t see how that is different from cases of manslaughter eg unlawful act manslaughter (for which the maximum sentence is life).  See http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/homicide_murder_and_manslaughter/#unlawful

However I do believe that Egan does not require a prison sentence to be rehabilitated. Having spoken to people involved in the case I do believe Egan accepts her guilt and will live a tormented life.  She may well be able to use her experience to counsel or educate others about the terrible consequences of similar actions.  I am satisfied that her prison sentence is punitive and is a deterrent and may give Eric’s family some satisfaction.

But as somebody who drives and has kids then I don’t think a 6yr ban is sufficient.  My view is that she should be banned from driving for life.  She should be not able to hold a driving licence or get car insurance ever again.  A car can very easily be a lethal weapon.  If you are licensed to keep a lethal weapon like a shotgun, and you got drunk and angry, picked up the shotgun and shot an innocent person in your inebriated rage (at one stage the defending barrister spoke about a ‘red mist’) then I do not think you would be licensed to keep a shotgun ever again.

I think you would be indicted on a charge of manslaughter which has much higher range of prison sentences than causing death by dangerous driving.  And, second, you would never get a shotgun licence again.  I do now believe that if you kill an innocent person, whilst racing a car, drunk, in a rage, then you should be banned from driving a car for life.  You’re just not a fit person to be allowed to do it.  Some may consider that a heftier punishment than a short-ish prison sentence and driving ban.  If my wife or a child of mine was killed in the way that Eric was killed I would want the driver banned for life.  Driving is not a human right.  Even if Egan’s remorse is genuine then she should just learn to live without having the right to drive.

Notes

How does bearing witness feel?

I had been into a crown court once before, 40 years ago, as an observer but only briefly – we were taking kids from Holland Park School to the Old Bailey.  I have never sat through a trial or served on a jury.  I had never witnessed a sentencing.  It was formal, with the gravitas of an immense court room, every person present was assigned to particular positions: benches, a dock, reporters’ tables, public galleries;  and the barristers, judge and court officials were all gowned.  The atmosphere was dispassionate but every person who spoke was sympathetic for Eric’s family’s loss and foremost in all the talk was the death of Eric.  Listening to his family’s impact statements was heart rending.  His sudden, physically violent, unwarranted death and his family’s loss and the irreversibility of both the death and the loss made me very sad and pre-occupied me when we left. If Egan hadn’t been drinking, if she hadn’t got in her car, if …. Eric would still be alive and he would still be loving his family, working, cycling, running. telling his kids his terrible jokes.  One life finished and so many others harmed and devastated.   It all felt so futile.  Matt and I went for a cup of tea and I was grateful for some space to talk it out.

Matt and I went to observe and bear witness as volunteers for the road justice campaign. (www.roadjustice.org.uk)   We went to listen to the prosecution’s evidence about the collision, Eric’s family’s impact statements, the defence final statement and mitigation, and the judgement and sentence.

The purpose of the road justice campaign is to bear witness to the three stages of justice with respect to RTCs with cyclists.  These are

  1. the investigation
  2. the indictment & prosecution
  3. the trial & sentencing

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