Sinclair v British Telecommunications Plc

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date15 December 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] EWCA Civ 1968
Docket NumberA2/2003/2140,No: 2003/00977 Z5
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date15 December 2003

[2003] EWCA Civ 1968







No: 2003/00977 Z5

Troy Blade

Mr Rf Linford Appeared On Behalf Of The Appellant


On 20th December 2002 the appellant appeared before the Crown Court at Plymouth where he pleaded guilty to an offence of causing death by dangerous driving. On 30th January he was sentenced to four years' detention in a young offender institution and disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for five years and until an extended driving test was passed. He appeals against that sentence by leave of the single judge.


The appellant was born on 13th December 1984, and is therefore now 18 years of age. The tragic sequence of events that gave rise to his conviction began in the mid afternoon of 6th July 2002. The appellant (then aged 17) went to a public house in Plymouth with a number of friends, and there had a certain amount to drink. The group went on to a party at a friend's house, where the appellant continued to drink. It appears that beer, vodka and a drink called 'After Shock', which apparently is of similar strength to gin, were in circulation. He also shared a cannabis joint and took at least one valium tablet.


Later that evening, he spoke to a man called Harrison, who had a car for sale, a Ford Granada. He wanted only £20 for it. The appellant agreed to buy it and Harrison handed over the keys. At that point, one of the appellant's friends, Kerry Thompson, told him to give her the car keys because he had been drinking heavily. He did not do so. The appellant left the party shortly before 1 am with two friends, Shane Jessney and David Treharne. Treharne tried to persuade the appellant to let him drive because the appellant was so drunk. He refused. He then reversed out into the road and accelerated away. The evidence suggests that he did not switch the lights on. It appears that he attempted to spin the car at a roundabout, and drove at speeds well in excess of 30 miles per hour. Both Treharne and Shane Jessney told him to slow down; advice that he disregarded.


Eventually he attempted to make a left-hand turn and, in doing so, lost control of the car, which slid across the road and collided with a tree. Shane Jessney, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown against the inside of the vehicle, sustaining severe head injuries. The appellant telephoned for an ambulance but then left the scene. He was arrested some hours later at his home. Analysis of a blood sample taken some 11 hours after the accident did not contain alcohol, but the analysis indicated the presence of benzodiazepines and cannabinoids.


Shane Jessney, who was 24 years of age, died in hospital seven days later. His death has had a devastating effect on his mother and his sister.


When examined, the vehicle, a Ford Granada 2.8lt, was found to be in a highly dangerous condition. The rear brake caliper assembly and friction lining were not fitted. The hydraulic hose had been sealed by a pair of mole grips taped to the shock absorber assembly. The rear nearside friction linings were worn down, almost to the metal backing plates, so that the entire braking system to the rear of the car did not provide any real braking. Only the rear nearside tyre was in a serviceable condition. It was rightly described by His Honour Judge Taylor as a "death trap".


When interviewed by the police, the appellant agreed that another friend had used the vehicle earlier that evening; and the evidence was that that friend had specifically warned him that there were problems with the braking system and with the tyres. The appellant did not hold a driving licence. He had had virtually no driving experience. He told the police that he had only been behind the wheel of a car on one occasion when he was given an informal driving lesson in a car park.


Mr Linford sought in the course of his submissions to persuade us that the sentence was manifestly excessive. He drew our attention understandably to the guidelines given by this court in the case of ( R v Cooksley Stride and Cook 3rd April 2003), in which the guidelines set in R v Boswell were brought up-to-date.


Mr Linford acknowledged that there were aggravating features, but sought to persuade us that they did not result in this case falling within the most serious culpability category set out by the Lord Chief Justice in Cooksley.


It is important to bear in mind that the aggravating features identified by the Lord Chief Justice in paragraph 15 of the judgment in Cooksley are not exhaustive. This was a young man with virtually no driving experience at all, and who nevertheless decided to drive in the circumstances that we have outlined. In our judgment, that plainly amounts to a serious aggravating feature, although it is not one of those specifically identified by the Lord Chief Justice in Cooksley.


Mr Linford understandably sought to place considerable emphasis on the mitigating features of the case: the appellant is young; he was of good character; he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity; he unquestionably feels a deep and genuine remorse at causing the death of a friend. That is something with which he will live for the rest of his days.


But this was an extremely serious offence. There are a number of serious aggravating features: the consumption of alcohol and drugs; the speed at which the appellant drove; his disregard of express warnings, first as to the dangerous condition of the vehicle, secondly as to his own fitness to drive, and thirdly as to his speed in the course of that short but fatal journey. The state of the car itself amounts to a serious aggravating feature. So too does the fact that the appellant did not hold a driving licence, nor could he drive.


In our judgment, this was an exceptionally bad case, with a very high level of culpability. In those circumstances the sentence imposed by HHJ Taylor cannot be faulted. It was consistent with the Cooksley guidelines, and was an entirely appropriate sentence. It follows that this appeal must be dismissed.

[2003] EWCA Civ 1968




(Mr Justice Owen)

Royal Courts of Justice


London, WC2


Lord Justice Mantell

Lord Justice Carnwath


James Sinclair
British Telecommunications Plc

MR P ENGLEMAN (instructed by Betesh Fox of Manchester) appeared on behalf of the Appellant

MR M CHAPPLE (instructed by BT Group Legal Services, London) appeared on behalf of the Respondent


This case has a very long background. It goes back to the late 1980s when Mr Sinclair, the applicant for permission before us, was running what was called a "callstream" business in Liverpool and Manchester. When I say he was "running" it, I use that...

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