On 5 February 2016, the BBC reported that Nicholas Churchill, 40, had been sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment for his part in a low-speed but highly destructive car chase. Although, as you will see, “car chase” – my term, not the Beeb’s – might be pushing it bit.
Well, quite simply, Churchill stole a ‘dumper truck’ – a 30 tonne piece of heavy plant – from his employer. The reason, so said the prosecution, was that Churchill had become too hot in the cab of the vehicle he was operating at a quarry in Norfolk. It is not known whether or not the dumper truck was the vehicle Churchill was operating. Either way, he took control of the dumper truck and off he went.
The prosecution said that although it was a mild day, Churchill had been taking amphetamines which was said to have contributed to his decision to take the truck.
The police were called and gave chase in six vehicles and a helicopter. The chase was at relatively low speed, hitting a high of 30mph, and ran for a period of two hours from Norfolk into Suffolk, covering a distance of 37 miles. Along the way, Churchill managed to damage three of the six police vehicles involved in the chase. The damage caused was estimated at £26,000.
Churchill pleaded guilty to three offences:
a) aggravated vehicle taking – max sentence 2 years
b) dangerous driving – max sentence 2 years
c) driving while unfit through drugs – max sentence 6 months
In mitigation, it was said on Churchill’s behalf that “the red mist descended” and that he couldn’t remember the chase.
The judge, describing the offending as “a shocking piece of dangerous driving”, imposed a sentence of 14 months (which suggests a starting point of around 21 months in total) with a disqualification from driving for a period of two years.
A few minor matters first.
First, we presume that the judge also imposed the statutory surcharge. In this case, the sum is £100.
Second, the judge had the option of disqualifying Churchill until he passes a driving test. The news reports do not say whether this was considered or imposed.
Third, the driving disqualification was mandatory – it applies to all three offences. The minimum term is 12 months, unless a) defendant has had two or more disqualifications for preriods of 56 days or more in the preceding three years, where the period is two years; or b) there is a conviction within the previous 10 years for certain drug/alcohol related driving offences, where the period is three years. It is not known whether these provisions applied to Churchill but we would assume that they did not. Accordingly, the judge will have assessed the total offending and considered that two years is a sufficiently long period to punish Churchill and protective public.
Finally, we consider that 14 months is about the best it was going to get for Mr Churchill – this was a piece of prolonged, very bad driving, causing a substantial amount of damage, and having caused a significant drain on police resources. 14 months, representing a starting point of about 21 months. Although the maximum sentences, individually, were two years, two years and six months, the judge would probably have been justified in imposing consecutive sentences. As he didn’t, we wonder whether there is some personal mitigation which has not been mentioned in the press. As such, on the facts we have at the moment, we wouldn’t expect an appeal to be successful.
But, as we always say, you never know…