May 2013

‘Astounding’ comments by Sheriff

An Edinburgh man convicted of causing two separate cyclist deaths will be back on the roads in just 5 years, to the great concern of his last victim’s husband and everyone concerned with road safety.  Comments by the sheriff have also shocked many and were branded by Edinburgh Council Leader Cllr Andrew Burns as “completely astounding.”

If you are concerned, you can do something about it – see below.

Gary McCourt was convicted of causing the death of Audrey Fyfe (a member of Spokes and CTC) by careless driving, having previously killed a student in 1986 through reckless driving.

For the latest death, McCourt was given a 5-year driving ban and 300 hours community service.  Audrey Fyfe’s husband, Ian, had asked for a lifetime ban to protect other road users, saying with great dignity and mercy that community service would be more productive than a prison sentence which would do little for the public except cost money.

The Sheriff also caused widespread incomprehension by blaming Mrs Fyfe for not wearing a helmet, although there was no evidence that this would have saved her, and she was completely blameless for the crash.  Sadly, this is symptomatic of the ‘creeping compulsion’ we have seen on cycle helmets in recent years.

Husband Ian Fyfe said, “He should have been banned from driving for life. That’s twice his driving has taken a life. A lifetime ban would have made other road users safer. Instead he could be back driving again in five years.”

City leader Cllr Andrew Burns said, “I’m completely astounded at the sheriff’s comments. It’s totally irrelevant and I’m amazed a sheriff has made such a comment that has no basis in fact.  It infers she is partly to blame which is appalling and shows a complete ignorance of the situation.”

Scottish Conservative Chief Whip John Lamont said, “This is a staggering ruling. This man has now been involved in two separate incidents where a cyclist has died.

The Sheriff has also been involved in previous controversy over sentencing for a car/bike crash, when in 2010 he allowed 90-year-old Lady Suzanne Risk to keep her license after driving without due care and attention and hitting a cyclist at an Edinburgh road junction.

For more on all the above, see this detailed 4.5.13 Edinburgh Evening News report.


Our understanding of the legal position is that the most effective way to get the sentence reviewed, and to get an authoritative criticism of the Sheriff’s judgement and comments, is for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to appeal against the sentence.  They have 28 days to do this and, according to the above press report, are considering whether to do so.  If you wish them to do this, please a.s.a.p. email Give your views on what has happened and urge that the Crown Office appeals the sentence.

You may also wish to email your MSPs, drawing their attention to what has happened, asking them to support an appeal by the Crown Office, and to consider what can be done to make it less likely that such cases happen again in future.

Here, for information, is the Spokes letter to the Crown Office [pdf 185k].  However, please don’t copy our wording when writing to the Crown Office or your MSPs.  Use your own words, headings, etc – it makes a much greater impression.


A collection taken at the funeral was donated to Spokes specifically for an initiative to increase motorist awareness of cyclists.   This is being used to create a short video of hazard situations which motorists need to be aware of – for example, turns, ‘dooring’ and road-design failures such as pinch points.  We hope the video will be used by driving schools, fleet driver instructors, and so on, to generate discussion and raise awareness.

Of course, whilst greater motorist awareness is vital, it must be seen alongside many other steps, such as strict liability laws and, above all, safe and welcoming cycling conditions and infrastructure.







Comments are closed.