Motorist jailed for killing cyclist - Redbourn

06/07/2015

A motorist, who sent and received a flurry of messages while behind the wheel of his car before driving into a cyclist, with fatal consequences, was sent to prison today, Monday, 06 July 2015, for 21 months.

John Michell, a 26-year-old accountant, had been driving home along a dark and unlit road at the time, but it didn't stop him using his mobile phone.

Today St Albans Crown Court was told that in a period of two minutes and 21 seconds leading up to the collision, he composed three WhatsApp messages and read, at least once, two messages he'd received.

The court was told the communications were with a woman he'd met online earlier who he'd never met in person. The messages were described in court as "trivia." But it meant that because he was badly distracted, he drove into the rear of 57-year-old Mark Greenwood, who was ahead of him and cycling home from work.

Mr Greenwood, a keen cyclist, had been wearing a high viz jacket and other motorists had been able to see him. But after being struck by Mr Michell's Volkswagen Golf, he was thrown from his bike and died from multiple traumatic injuries. By complete coincidence, the court was told that although the two men didn't know each other, they lived in the same apartment block in the village of Redbourn in Herts.

Today Mr Michell, who now lives in Whaddon Close, Northampton, pleaded guilty to a charge of causing death by dangerous driving on the evening of 9 January 2014.

Before Mr Michell was jailed, the partner of Mr Greenwood made an impassioned plea in the court for the driver not to be sent to prison. Susan Ullman read a victim impact statement to the court in which she said despite what had happened, she still didn't want Michell to be sent to prison, which she said would be another "life lost."

The court heard Mr Greenwood had finished work that evening at a charity called Abbeyfield in St Albans, which provides support and care for the elderly and, at around 6pm, set off for the cycle ride to Redbourn along the A5183. He had on his fluorescent bright cyclist anorak and a helmet, and work colleagues knew him to be conscious of road safety. The last CCTV sighting of Mr Greenwood cycling out of the city centre in St Albans showed that the lights on his bike were not on at that stage, but it may have been because he was in a well lit area, said Peter Shaw prosecuting for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The court was told Mr Greenwood was seen by a number of motorists on the A5183 riding slowly and in a straight line near the kerb. But also coming up behind the cyclist was Michell in his silver golf and, because of the messages he was sending and receiving, he failed to spot him.

Judge Andrew Bright, hearing the case, was told the collision occured at approximately 6.25pm.

At the scene, the driver told a police officer: "I was travelling along Redbourn Road in the direction of Redbourn. It was dark. As I was driving I received a message on my phone. I glanced down at the phone to see the message. When I looked up the cyclist was there and I collided with it. I went up to the roundabout to turn round and came back to the scene. The male was on the floor. I did not move him or the bike."

The prosecutor said the phone of Mr Michell was examined by police investigators and it was then discovered he'd been having a WhatsApp conversation with the woman. At 6.12pm and 6.14pm he sent the woman messages. Her replies to him were timed at 6.19pm and 6.20pm.

The court was told as he continued his journey he sent two messages to her at 6.20pm, and two more at 6.21pm and she sent him back two further messages. The same woman was to tell police how, two days after the crash, Michell had told her about the collision with the cyclist, telling her: "It was my fault because I was looking at my phone."

The court was told that following the collision, Michell had moved to Northampton and given up his career in accountancy. His barrister John Dye said he was genuinely remorseful and had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of what had happened that night.

Passing sentence, Judge Bright QC said: "I am satisfied the cause of the collision was that you were distracted by using your phone when driving." The judge said he had listened carefully to the pleas of Mr Greenwood's partner, who had said she hoped the defendant wouldn't go to prison. But he said he also had a duty to the public and the message had to go out "loud and clear" that those who use mobile phones when driving could expect prison sentences if their actions resulted in the loss of life. The Judge said the use of mobile phones by people when driving was like an epidemic. He jailed Michell for 21 months and disqualified him from driving for three years, telling him he must take an extended driving test before he gets back behind the wheel of a car again.

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