The family of a cyclist who was killed by a Hampshire van driver who had been allowed to continue driving despite at least six previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel have condemned the leniency of the courts.
Christopher Gard pleaded guilty to causing the death by dangerous driving of 48-year-old Lee Martin who was taking part in a time trial event on the A31 near Bentley with the North Hampshire Road Club on August 12 last year.
He was a real force of nature and a very charismatic person. He is sorely missed by those that knew and loved him.Family statement
Gard was sentenced to nine years in prison and was also banned at Winchester Crown Court from driving for 14-and-a-half years.
The family of Mr Martin (pictured) said he would still have been alive if previous courts had taken tougher action against Gard who was most recently convicted six weeks prior to the fatal accident.
They said in a statement that Mr Martin would be “greatly missed” by his widow, two children and the rest of his family.
They continued: “His love for life meant he was always surrounded by many friends. He was a loyal and committed family member and friend. He was a real force of nature and a very charismatic person. He is sorely missed by those that knew and loved him.
“Lee Martin was tragically killed whilst doing something which he was passionate about. He was cycling. He was totally innocent. Lee was a responsible, experienced and safe cyclist who was considerate to other road users.
“The great tragedy about Lee’s death is that it was totally avoidable. The defendant had been convicted of using his phone at least six times prior to the event. Only six weeks before Lee’s death he was in front of magistrates pleading hardship if he lost his driving licence.
“He was, once again, being convicted of using his phone whilst driving and should have been losing his licence due to having too many points.
“Each previous conviction on his licence had been for using his phone whilst driving. The magistrates chose to allow the defendant to keep his licence. The result of this lenient approach to such a serious offence was the death of Lee Martin only six weeks later.
“Whilst Lee’s death is clearly the fault of the defendant, we feel that the legal system is somewhat to blame.
“The leniency shown in this case on the defendant, and the lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone whilst driving has resulted in Lee Martin’s death. Whilst this carries on, there will be more families in this tragic situation.
“Texting or talking on the phone whilst driving is extremely dangerous and it is about time the legal system caught up. If this had already happened then this family would not be in this position, the defendant would have been prevented from driving prior to this event, Lee Martin would still be alive and we would not be grieving.
“The police have been outstanding in this case, but we share their frustrations. Lee’s death was avoidable. Had the legal system and the magistrates treated the defendant’s previous persistent offences seriously then our family would have been saved this horrible outcome.
“Lee Martin was merely cycling along the road, when someone drove into him whilst writing text messages. The law needs to be changed, and sentencing for these offences needs to changed, to help prevent it happening to someone else’s family.”
Speaking after sentence was handed down on Gard, 30, of Linnet Way, Alton, Pc David Mitchell, of Hampshire Police, said: “This was a tragic loss of life that has left Mr Martin’s family devastated. Cyclists are vulnerable road users and extra care must be taken by motorists.
“Gard took the decision to send and receive text messages despite the risk to the safety of other road users. He remained unaware of the presence of Mr Martin or any other cyclists up to the point of collision.”
Rob Heard, road safety sergeant for Hampshire, said: “The majority of people know they should not be using their phone while driving, but appear not to understand what a huge distraction it is and what a risk they are taking.
“This terrible collision just shows the consequences of using your phone while driving and how it can ruin lives.”