'Why is a life worth less if they’re killed by a driver?' - Legal expert bemoans sentencing disparity after cyclist deaths

A pedestrian, Auriol Grey, was sentenced to three-years in prison on Thursday for the manslaughter of 77-year-old cyclist Celia Ward

police tape
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cycling Weekly’s own Dr Michael Hutchinson has questioned the disparity in judicial sentencing, after pedestrian Auriol Grey was jailed for three-years on Thursday by Peterborough Crown Court for the manslaughter of a 77-year-old cyclist, Celia Ward. 

Hutchinson - who previously taught law at Sussex and Cambridge Universities, and holds a doctorate in law from Cambridge - took to Twitter to question the disparity in sentencing between the three-years that Grey received, and similar sentences often handed down for causing death by careless driving, expressing his dismay at the situation. 

“So if the court thinks that’s what a cyclist's life is worth when they’re killed by a pedestrian, why is a life worth so much less if they’re killed by a driver?” Hutchinson wrote on social media. 

Several other users of the social media platform expressed their confusion at the sentencing, with one user writing in response that it “makes no sense”. 

After reviewing sentencing guidelines for a range of offences, Hutchinson expanded on his comments this afternoon, and explained that the equivalent offence, in his view, of causing death by careless driving, often carried a significantly lower custodial sentence to that which Ms.Grey received.

“I went and looked up the sentencing guidelines for causing death by careless driving, which I think would be the analogous driving offence,” he said. “The absolute top end for causing death by careless driving, the top end for that without any aggravating factors is three-years, which is what we know she [Ms. Grey] received for manslaughter.” 

However, Hutchinson explained that in reality, few defendants who cause the death of a cyclist due to careless driving, ever actually receive that term. 

Hutchinson said: “In practice, nobody gets that three-years. The bottom end is a community service order, and in practice, my guess on that would be that the equivalent driving offence here would probably get you a 36 week custodial sentence, quite possibly suspended.

“So it feels like there’s a bit of disparity. If we’re saying that’s what a life is worth for manslaughter, but this is what it's worth if it’s causing death by dangerous driving, then there seems to be a disparity based on whether you kill someone by shoving them, or in this case perhaps not even shoving but basically frightening them, versus killing someone by driving into them.”

Despite his views, Hutchinson explained that he believes it’s the sentencing guidelines that are “out of kilter”, not how they are being applied in the courtrooms. 

“I think the sentencing guidelines for manslaughter are probably being applied pretty consistently,” he said. “I don’t think the courts are necessarily getting it wrong at how they are applying them. The courts are just applying the guidelines that they are given and I think they are applying them fairly consistently. The issue here is that it's actually the sentencing guidelines that are out of kilter.”

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.