Gosport Teenagers' Deaths: Driver Loses Sentence Appeal
1 August 2014, 13:00
An unemployed sports coach, jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to death by dangerous driving of two young girls he ran over in Gosport, has had an appeal against his sentence dismissed.
The Court of Appeal turned down the bid by Samuel Etherington, of Stoners Close in Gosport, today (Friday 1 August). He was sentenced in February 2014.
20-year-old Etherington was originally charged with the manslaughter of Jasmine Allsop, 14, and Olivia Lewry, 16, but the Crown Prosecution Service accepted his pleas to the lesser charge.
As well as the prison sentence, he was banned from driving for seven years and ordered to retake his driving test after that period.
The court heard he hit the girls in his "boy-racer'' car while driving at 65mph in a 30mph zone after taking illegal drugs.
Jailing Etherington, who appeared in court in a black shirt and with short-cropped hair, Judge Guy Boney QC said it was one of the most serious cases of death by dangerous driving seen by the courts for a very long time.
He said: "You are quite simply a menace behind the steering wheel of car.''
Etherington was driving a modified green Honda Civic that hit Jasmine and Olivia in Ann's Hill Road, Gosport, at about 4.15am on 3 November last year.
Jasmine, who lived just yards from where the crash happened, died at the scene while her friend Olivia, was taken to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth where she died later.
Nicholas Haggan QC, prosecuting, told the court that blood tests carried out on Etherington showed that he had taken "recreational levels'' of ketamine and mephedrone within the 24 hours prior to the accident.
He explained how these drugs can lead to euphoric states and even "out-of-body experiences'' and could have led to an impairment of his driving ability.
Mr Haggan said that the two girls had been attending a party at Jasmine's home in Ann's Hill Road and at about 4.10am they were standing outside talking to a friend when the defendant drove past in his vehicle.
He said the Honda Civic car had been modified, including having the suspension lowered and a special exhaust system fitted which emitted a louder noise than a normal car.
Mr Haggan said that Olivia had told friends that Etherington had been due to pick up her and Jasmine after the party. But as the defendant drove past them, he revved the engine, prompting the two girls to shout abuse at him, Mr Haggan said.
Etherington then turned the car around and drove his car at high speed in the residential area heading directly at the two girls. Mr Haggan said that a black box fitted to the vehicle for insurance purposes showed that Etherington accelerated to 71 mph with the collision happening at 65mph.
Witnesses described the defendant as "ragging'' and "red-lining'' the engine to get as much speed out of the car as possible and they had been concerned that he would kill someone, Mr Haggan said.
He described how the two girls had their arms around each other's shoulders when they were struck by the car on the wrong side of the road and flung into the air.
Mr Haggan said: "The Crown's case is this defendant deliberately drove at the two girls, perhaps intending to frighten them because they shouted abuse at him when he had passed by in the opposite direction a short time before or perhaps simply because he was showing off.
"The defendant could have stopped before the collision had he chosen to do so. Instead he continued to accelerate, he drove at the girls leaving it far too late to brake or swerve around them.
"The vehicle struck the girls at high speed resulting in their tragic deaths.''
Speaking of the impact on the girls' families, Mr Haggan said: "As one would expect, their words depict in heart-rending terms the agony and devastation caused by the deaths of their daughters taken away from them at so young an age.
"They express the sense of loss and desolation that they and the other members of their families have felt every day of their lives since their daughters were killed.
"They speak of their anger that this should have happened as a result of the senseless actions of this defendant who in a few moments took away from them two lives so precious and irreplaceable.''
Mr Haggan said that Etherington had a previous conviction for driving without due care and attention and failing to stop for a police officer in an incident exactly two years before the fatal crash.
In that incident a police officer stepped into the road holding a laser gun and attempted to halt the defendant's Honda Civic but he did not stop and was only arrested later by police.
Because of this offence and an earlier speeding offence, he was banned from driving for a year-long period, only regaining his licence in February 2013.
Oba Nsugbe QC, defending, said that Etherington was "utterly remorseful'' at what he had done. He said: "He will beat himself up for the rest of his life because of this. He is devastated by his actions and cried for four days following the accident.
"He still has nightmares where he sees the victims in his sight. Whatever sentence he receives will not be his punishment, the true punishment will be in his head.
"He wishes that it was his life that was lost that evening, not that of those two young girls.''
Mr Nsugbe said that there was no evidence that the drugs consumed had impaired the defendant's driving but Judge Boney said that it showed "a pretty irresponsible approach to driving''.
Speaking of the seriousness of the case, Judge Boney said: "I accept that you are genuinely remorseful and sorry and I accept that the long-term emotional effect on you has been as devastating as you say.
"But nothing can take away from the fact that, when all is said and done and everything said in your favour that could possibly be said, this is about the most serious case of causing death by dangerous driving that this or any other court has come across for a very long time.
"It has almost every aggravating feature possible - a prolonged course of deliberately bad and very dangerous driving, the killing of not one but two people, the taking at some point that evening of a drug and a grossly excessive speed which the vehicle expert says was the most significant factor in the cause of the accident.
"For you, the sentence which has to be passed will be a life-changing event. For your two victims, it's worse than that.
"For them is was a life-ending event, their lives snuffed out before they had barely started.
"For their families, the agony of the heartache and grief which you have single-handedly caused to them is almost impossible to get one's mind around.''
He added: "You had taken ketamine and/or mephedrone - both were found in your system - on the same evening that you were driving.
"It doesn't matter which drug or the precise effect, if any, that it had. The mere fact that you were prepared to take any drug when you were driving is one of several pointers to your shocking level of irresponsibility.''
Describing the accident, Judge Boney said: "You had no control of a situation which was unfolding very fast and unfolding fast for one reason only - your utterly gross speed.
"What is not a matter of guesswork is the consequences of your dreadful driving.''
He said the severity of the sentence was demanded by the "public conscience'' and the victims' families and hoped it would act as a deterrent to other drivers.
"The message must go out to anybody else inclined to behave as irresponsibly as you did, that the penalties for criminal behaviour with a motor car as extreme as this will result in devastating consequences for them,'' he said.
Speaking after the accident, Jasmine' s mother, Rosemary Allsop, 37, described how she held her daughter's body for four hours and kissed her goodbye after she came out of her house and saw the accident scene.
She said: "I went out and then a neighbour covered me in a blanket. I kissed her - it was four hours before they took her body away because I did not want to let her go.
"I told her she was my angel and I'd loved her since the day she was born. I can remember her big blue eyes staring.''
The housewife, who is the mother of a four-year-old, said the death had left her numb. She said: "I'm empty inside and lost. I keep expecting her to come through the door.
"Jasmine was a gorgeous, lovely, bubbly character. They (Jasmine and Olivia) were best friends.''
Jasmine's father Kevin MacLaughlan, 58, also paid tribute to his daughter. "I do not know how we are going to get through this. We have run out of words of comfort to say,'' the road worker from Thorne in South Yorkshire said.
"She was beautiful. The most beautiful, bubbly natured girl - outgoing and affectionate, very caring and bubbly.''
A Barbie-themed funeral was held for Jasmine and her friends and family wore pink, her favourite colour, and sang and danced to songs during the service.
Ms Allsop said her daughter was a talented seamstress who was going to start work experience at a sewing shop near her home. "She always wanted to make her own Barbie prom dress with sparkles on it,'' she said in a statement.
Brune Park Community School in Gosport, where Jasmine was a pupil and which Olivia had attended, said: 'Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this dreadful time.
'They were both independent, strong-minded individuals who lived their lives to the full with confidence and a sense of humour and a sense of fun. We will miss them both immensely and their unique talents which they displayed.'
St Vincent College in Gosport, where Olivia was a student, said it sent its "sincere condolences to the families involved in this tragic event''.
Olivia's family issued a statement thanking the local community and authorities for supporting them.
They said: "The help of all these people has been greatly appreciated and given a lot of comfort not only to what has just happened but also for the future.''
Following the sentencing, Ian Harris, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex Complex Casework Unit, said:
"Samuel Etherington was charged with two offences of manslaughter and indicated at a hearing on January 30 that he would plead guilty to two offences of causing death by dangerous driving.
"Following written admission of his full responsibility for the tragic deaths of Olivia Lewry and Jasmine Allsop and following very careful consideration with Olivia and Jasmine's families, we have accepted those pleas.
"Although, we accept that he did not intend to kill Olivia and Jasmine, the fact remains that he did kill them as a result of a completely unnecessary and genuinely appalling piece of deliberate dangerous driving, exacerbated by his decision to drive having consumed ketamine and mephedrone earlier that night.
"No words can convey the suffering that his actions have caused and no sentence can compensate for the dreadful loss of two young lives.
"I would like to thank Hampshire Constabulary for their thorough investigation but most of all I would like to pay tribute to Olivia and Jasmine's families for their dignity and fortitude in such tragic circumstances.''
Detective Superintendent Dick Pearson, of Hampshire Police, said:
"Samuel Etherington behaved with total disregard for the lives of two teenage girls on the night of November the 3rd last year.
"His dangerous actions behind the wheel led to the deaths of Jasmine Allsop and Olivia Lewry - a tragedy for which Mr Etherington has admitted his guilt.
"We'd like to thank the families of Jasmine and Olivia for their immense courage throughout this exceptionally traumatic case. Our thoughts remain with next-of-kin.
"The community felt a deep sense of shock over the loss of two well-known, popular girls whose memories prompted profound expressions of grief from the public.
"Police are grateful to many community leaders and organisations for their co-operation and support in helping people come to terms with the tragedy and pay their respects to Jasmine and Olivia.''
On Etherington's Facebook page, the defendant had used a photo of the car as his main picture and in his posts he described it as Rory the Racing Car.
The vehicle had defective tyres when Etherington was previously prosecuted and the court heard that the car also had defects at the time of the fatal accident.