Alexis Sebastien Fleury, aged 25, had driven from France to the UK, via the Channel Tunnel. He was driving to see his girlfriend who lived in East Sussex. He had been awake for 16 hours and driving for 6 hours, when he decided he needed to perform a U-turn. He did so, but failed to return to driving on the left hand side of the road, seemingly forgetting he was driving in the UK and not France. It is unclear for what period Fleury was travelling on the wrong side of the road, the news report indicating that it was for ‘moments or minutes’.
He was involved in a head on collusion with a Skoda Fabia driven by David Crane, aged 62, at about 11.30 pm. Mr Crane suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr Crane raised money for charity and cared for his disabled wife.
The offence was presumably causing death by careless driving.
Appeal against sentence
At Canterbury Crown Court he was given 18 months’ imprisonment. Last week, at the Court of Appeal, his sentence was reduced to 9 months.
It was argued that there was no evidence that Fleury had been tired. He had in fact taken a nap during the channel crossing.
“The culpability of a British driver in the same circumstances would have been very high indeed. For somebody from France, the culpability must be reduced.
“A starting point of two years, before allowing discount for his guilty plea, was too high. The starting point ought to have been 12 months, with the resulting sentence being one of nine months.
“We therefore reduce the sentence of 18 months to one of nine months and, to that extent, this appeal is allowed,” the judge concluded.
Does this seem right? On the limited information from the news report, it would seem that the court endorsed the view that because he was driving on a foreign road, his offence was less serious.
One view of that, would seem to be an adoption of an ‘ahhh it’s easily done’ attitude, which would in no way be acceptable; should foreign drivers know that transgressions on UK roads (resulting from forgetting they are in the UK) are not punished as harshly as UK drivers’? Arguably, when driving abroad on the side of the road to which one is not accustomed, drivers should take more care, and therefore the standard below which such driving falls is greater than for a domestic driver.
However, the other side of the coin has its appeal; where a domestic driver causes such a collision, his or her culpability is high. A foreign driver used to driving on the left does not have an excuse, but there is an explanation as to why the collision happened. Consequently, such a mistake can be attributed to momentary or single inattention, as opposed to simply a piece of bad driving.
In R v Pulido-Sanchez 2010 EWCA Crim 2375 a HGV lorry driver from Spain pleaded to causing death by dangerous driving and received 2.5 years (reduced from 4) after pulling out of a layby and driving on the wrong side of the road for 1.5 miles. He caused the death of a taxi driver. The court said the gravamen of the offence was his failure to correct his error – driving for 1.5 miles.
What do you think? Did the court get it right?
We may revisit this once the transcript is released.