A car enthusiast has been jailed for 13 months for dangerous driving after a crash in Halifax claimed the lives of two men.
Volkswagen Golf GTi driver Ben Brearcliffe, 20, and 19-year-old front seat passenger Michael Hudson both suffered fatal injuries when the car went out of control and crashed into a lamp post on Ovenden Road as it tried to keep up with a high-performance Vauxhall Astra VXR being driven by Mixenden man Dennis Roose.
Seconds before the crash in February last year the two vehicles went through a red traffic light and witnesses estimated that they were travelling at twice the 40mph limit for the road.
Today (Friday) Judge Robert Bartfield said the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to charge 31-year-old Roose with causing death by dangerous driving was “wrong” in his view and a jury should have been asked to consider the case.
Prosecutor Michael Smith said the Crown had taken the view that there was “no casual link”, that could be proved to the satisfaction of certainty, between what Roose did and how Mr Brearcliffe drove his Golf.
But Judge Bartfield said there appeared to be evidence upon which a jury could have concluded that the drivers were racing and that the defendant may have been a contributor to the deaths.
“My preliminary view is that this should have gone to a jury on the full charge and I respectfully disagree with what you have said,” the judge told Mr Smith.
Judge Bartfield said he did not suggest that it was an easy decision to make and he conceded that there may have been other factors which he did not know about.
He added that it was very easy for a judge to criticise the decisions of others that had been taken responsibly, as this one was, but that was his view.
The court heard that a statement from William Naylor, who was rear seat passenger in the Golf, indicated that Mr Brearcliffe had been driving to keep up with the Astra not to race it.
The decision to charge only dangerous driving meant that the maximum prison sentence the judge could pass was two years and the relatives of the deceased were unable to put forward victim impact statements about the effect of the tragedy.
But Judge Bartfield told some of Mr Hudson’s family members who had attended Bradford Crown Court that he understood that any family would be bereft and he could well imagine what they would have said to him.
Father-of-three Roose, of Ash Tree Gardens, pleaded guilty to the dangerous driving charge on the basis that he had driven at excessive speed and went through a red light after the Golf had driven up behind him.
But passing sentence Judge Bartfield said CCTV footage of the two similar high-powered cars in the lead up to the incident suggested that they had been “stalking one another and sizing each other up”.
“I think you two drivers had decided at a fairly early stage that you are going to take each other on and a gauntlet had been thrown down which both of you took up,” the judge told Roose.
He said as they approached the roundabout leading to A629 dual carriageway they both knew they were “approaching the starting gate” of what was going to be a race.
“This was competitive driving in which you knew the Golf was trying to keep up with you and you were trying to out-accelerate it,” said the judge.
After the collision Roose, who was in the Astra with his brothers, drove by the crash scene twice before leaving the area.
His barrister Stephen Grattage submitted that his client was suffering from shock and now deeply regretted not stopping, but Judge Bartfield suggested that Roose had only been bothered about his own skin.
Mr Grattage said Roose had been in Halifax “showing off” the latest modifications to his car, but he had not been out to race.
Roose, who was banned from driving for four years and ordered to take an extended re-test, handed himself into police the day after the crash and Judge Bartfield said he accepted that over time he had become extremely remorseful for what happened that night.
“In the end you are driving in a way we see as drivers, and I see in the courts, were young people in high-powered vehicles use the public roads to race on with disastrous consequences,” said Judge Bartfield.
“You are fortunate in one respect. This could easily have been placed before judge and jury as a more serious charge and if convicted you would have been facing many years imprisonment.
“As it is I have to approach the case on the basis that your driving was not a cause of the death of these two boys.”
The judge added:”The sentence I am about to pass in no way can be said to reflect the overall seriousness of what happened that night and that should be understood.”