Sheriff spares Peeblesshire death-crash driver from jail

Sheriff Kevin Drummond ponders on what he sees as a marked cultural increase in alcohol related crime.
Sheriff Kevin Drummond ponders on what he sees as a marked cultural increase in alcohol related crime.

RELATIVES of an apprentice mechanic who was killed when a French driver smashed into his car on the wrong side of the road wept as a sheriff told them why he wasn’t going to jail the man responsible.

Teacher Jean-Baptiste Brosset, 23, was driving with his girlfriend on the A72 when he drove into 22-year-old Andrew McLean’s car on a sweeping bend between Peebles and Skirling near the A701 junction on September 11 last year.

The family of Brosset travelled from France to hear the sentencing at Selkirk Sheriff Court on Monday.

The court heard there was no question of speed – the crash happened at between 29 and 39mph – but was told Brosset was driving for the first time in the UK.

He admitted causing death by careless driving. Brosset – who teaches French at a school in Cluain Dara, County Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland – was banned from the road for 18 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service.

But the sentence was immediately attacked by the McLean family, 13 of whom were in court on Monday.

Andrew’s father, John, of Easton Farm Cottage, Dunsyre in Lanarkshire, blasted: “We went to court looking for justice. We did not get it.”

Sheriff Kevin Drummond had explained the differences between death by careless driving and death by dangerous driving, which normally attracts a jail sentence.

Prosecutor Tessa Bradley told how the accused had been driving north in a Peugeot car, with the victim travelling south in a Vauxhall Nova.

She said Mr McLean had collected fresh packed meat from his workplace in Biggar, which he took to the farmers’ market in Peebles, leaving there around 1pm.

Brosset and his girlfriend had travelled by ferry to Dover the previous day, spending the night in Manchester, which they left around 10am on the day of the accident.

Miss Bradley said Brosset was in a French vehicle, with the steering wheel on the left, and was taking his girlfriend to Edinburgh for university studies.

And she revealed: “He was using an inbuilt satellite navigation system, but due to roadworks was diverted on to the A701”.

The prosecutor told how another driver pulled out behind the accused and he continued to drive at normal speed as he reached a sweeping right-hand bend, where he crossed over the centre line and drove on the wrong side of the road.

Miss Bradley said Mr McLean was confronted on his side of the road by Brosset and, while both cars tried to avoid a collision, there was a head-on crash.

Other motorists, including two nurses, went to assist. Miss Bradley said Brosset, who managed to get out of his vehicle, was hysterical and clearly in shock.

The court heard he said he thought he’d killed a man and kept repeating: “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Mr McLean was pronounced dead at the scene, while Brosset and his girlfriend were taken to hospital.

The road was closed for several hours while accident investigators examined the crash site. Miss Bradley said their report concluded neither driver had been speeding, and there were no defects in either vehicle. And it was evident, by tyre marks on the road, that both cars had tried to brake.

Miss Bradley said Brosset had held a French driving licence for four years, but this had been his first time driving in the UK.

Advocate Peter Gray, defending, said his client’s journey had been wholly unremarkable prior to the crash, with regular breaks being taken and nothing unusual about his driving.

He told Sheriff Drummond: “There is no suggestion of any aggravating factors, of him driving while tired, or at excessive speed. This was a tragic moment of confusion by a young man driving for the first time in the UK, unaccustomed to driving on the left side of the road, who momentarily suffered a lapse of concentration. Tragically, that momentary lapse had such appalling consequences, which will continue to haunt not just the family of the deceased, but also Mr Brosset.”

And he told the court: “He would do anything to change what has happened and the enormity of it weighs heavily on him, night and day. The guilt of the accident will never leave him.”

The advocate said his client had shown genuine remorse.

Mr Gray said Brosset’s driving fell into the lower end of the scale and should not involve him losing his liberty.

After retiring from the bench for a few minutes, Sheriff Drummond told tearful relatives that nothing could reverse the tragic consequences they had suffered.

He said he must take account of the degree of culpability, with the cause of the accident attributed to momentary inattention, with no aggravating factors.

The sheriff went on: “The court is profoundly conscious of the loss and grief sustained by Mr McLean’s family as the result of his death in this road traffic collision. He is described as a happy, hardworking young man, who was devoted to his family and his fiancée.

“The court extends its sincere sympathy and nothing said or done here today can reverse these tragic consequences.

“The starting point for judicial disposal is the culpability of the accused which requires an evaluation of his driving. The level of culpability is said to be driving without due care and attention, as opposed to dangerous driving, and the kind of factors the court has to consider is whether there was a prolonged or deliberate course of ignoring the rules of the road, aggressive driving, speed or inadequate sleep, for example.

“None of these aggravating factors are present and the cause of this tragedy was momentary inattention relating to inexperience of driving in the UK.”