Judge: there’s no point in jailing bike death driver, I just won’t do it

Police and emergency services at the scene on the carriageway between Newtownards and Bangor
Police and emergency services at the scene on the carriageway between Newtownards and Bangor

A Co Down man who killed a cyclist was handed a community service order on Friday after a judge said he saw “no point” in sending him to jail.

Ordering 55-year-old Ian William Lappin to serve 100 hours of community service at Newtownards Magistrates’ Court, district judge Mark Hamill said that given his guilty plea, “in effect the maximum sentence is three months... even if I throw the book at him”.

Last month Lappin, from Circular Road in Ards, admitted causing the death of cyclist Stephen Lynch by careless driving. on the Bangor Road in the town on October 6, 2016.

“What’s the point in sending a man like this to prison for three months,” questioned the judge, “he will be out in six weeks - I’m just not going to do it.”

“I may outrage the family, I don’t know but I’m just not going to do it,” added Judge Hamill who expressed his condolences to the victims family but added “these cases are desperately, desperately sad but the courts cannot turn the clock back to make things right.”

The 50-year-old father-of-five who was from the Downpatrick area died of his injuries when his bicycle was in collision with Lappin’s Renault Scenic car close to the Somme Heritage Centre shortly before 5.50am.

Opening the facts for the first time, a prosecutor told the court an ambulance crew arrived to find members of the public administering CPR to Mr Lynch.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A forensic accident investigator examined the scene and conducted various tests which estimated Lappin had struck the back wheel of the bike while travelling at around 50mph, in what the court was told was a 70mph zone, and there was no evidence that he had tried to brake prior to the impact.

The expert opined that Lappin would have had a view of Mr Lynch’s bike from 62 metres (just over 200ft) – a distance which he would covered in 2.8 seconds, said the lawyer.

The lawyer added that while street lighting was illuminated and Mr Lynch had a light on the front of his bicycle, there was no such light on the rear and he was not wearing reflective clothing.

At the scene, the court heard a passer-by asked Lappin if he was ok but he replied: “I will never be alright, I killed that man.”

Interviewed about the tragedy, Lappin told police “he was blowing his nose at the time of the impact and didn’t see Mr Lynch,” the lawyer said.

As Lappin sat in the public gallery appearing to wipe away tears from his face, defence barrister Tom McCreanor conceded “this is a tragic case for the Lynch family” who were seated on the other side of the gallery.

With no aggravating features attached to the case, the lawyer submitted “this was literally a matter of seconds in which a moment’s inattention has had such tragic consequences.”

Imposing the CSO as well as a 12 month driving ban, Judge Hamill said the case served as a warning to cyclists to have working lights and reflective clothing and to all drivers.

“Anybody in this court room who is a driver can be guilty of inattention, a moment of carelessness, anyone could end up in the same position of Mr Lapin following a few seconds inattention,” said the judge, adding that his few seconds of inattention “has had devastating and tragic consequences”.