Crash driver freed early after appeal

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News from the courts

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A driver who was drunk when he crashed a car and was jailed for four months has been released early, just 12 days into his four-month sentence after an appeal.

Craig James Scholes, of Lower Ballachrink, Ballaragh Road, Lonan, was freed by Deemsters Geoffrey Tattersall and David Doyle on Wednesday after originally being sent to prison on July 24.

Scholes, aged 29, was driving his friend’s car on September 24 when he crashed through a wall, landing it on its roof in a field.

He had no driving licence, no insurance and his blood alcohol count was 153, almost double the drink drive limit of 80.

Scholes’ friend, a passenger in the car, sustained a broken neck and a broken ankle, while Scholes suffered a broken neck and fractured skull.

At the appeal, Deemster Tattersall said: ‘We can’t turn the clock back. We do take the view that this was an offence that did on balance merit custody, probably a very short custodial sentence.

‘If we had been imposing sentence it would have been a month, as it would have served to teach you a lesson.

‘You have been in custody for 12 days and we feel it would serve no useful purpose to send you back.

‘We therefore will impose such a custodial sentence which will allow your immediate release.’

At the original sentencing, Deemster Alastair Montgomerie had used a starting point for sentencing of eight months, which was reduced to four months due to factors such as an early guilty plea.

Scholes’s advocate Steven Wood said: ‘I was asked at the sentencing if I considered the custody threshold had been passed and I said no.

‘I say it was the wrong starting point and the threshold had not been passed. If it was passed, it could, and should have been suspended.

‘The victim’s evidence was that the standard of driving was fine up to the point of impact.

‘The offence is one of careless driving causing serious injury. There was no evidence alcohol had a significant impact on the driving, the evidence of the victim was that he appeared to be sober.’

Deemster Doyle said: ‘Even if there is no evidence alcohol caused the crash, surely we have to take into account the drink driving?’

Deemster Tattersall said: ‘Anything could happen if you consume alcohol. He was well above the limit, reaction times are slowed down.’

The court had only pursued the one charge of causing serious injury by careless driving, the others being time-expired as the events took place.

Mr Wood also said that too much emphasis had been placed on the vulnerability of the victim saying: ‘Here is a friend of Mr Scholes, lending him his car, in the knowledge that he has no insurance or licence, and he chooses not to wear a seat belt. I would submit there is not the same duty of care owed as to, for example, a cyclist. Culpability can be reduced to take into account the victim has not worn as seat belt and played a role in the offence being committed.’

Deemster Doyle replied: ‘You’re under the same duty of care to drive carefully.’

Deemster Tattersall said: ‘The driver has responsibility to ensure his passengers are wearing seat belts. There wouldn’t be an injured man if your client hadn’t been behind the wheel.’

Mr Wood also argued that personal mitigation did not seem to have been considered by the lower court.

The advocate said that Scholes saw his daughter once a week and that the custodial sentence had impacted on his human rights, which he did not feel had been considered.

Deemster Tattersall said: ‘I don’t disagree. It’s important to bear in mind, but it’s not a get out of jail card.

‘It’s a slightly unusual case. He did put the victim first before his own welfare. He contacted emergency services, was honest with the police, pleaded guilty, has no previous convictions, is remorseful and the probation report deemed him as no risk of reoffending. It is a long list of strong mitigation.

‘We’re not sure where the eight months comes from, it seems to be a harsh sentence.’

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