Learner driver jailed for more than six years after killing one of her passengers while drunk

A learner driver who killed one of her passengers after downing up to six pints at the pub has been jailed.

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Phillip Gillespie had spent the day working when drink driver Susan Mitchell came to collect him and his colleague from The Top House in Blyth, Northumberland.

But when Mitchell arrived she decided to stay at the bar and spent roughly three hours drinking with the pair as well as Mr Gillespie’s partner, who was also her friend, before the four got in her Ford Focus just after 8pm on December 3, 2021.

Newcastle Crown Court heard that the group were travelling along Cowpen Road in the town on their way to Alnwick, which was around 30 miles away, when they approached queuing traffic at a set of temporary traffic lights.

Provisional licence holder Mitchell failed to stop and ploughed into the back of a stationary car at roughly 40-50mph, which caused that driver, who suffered serious injuries, to crash into the vehicle in front of it.

Mr Gillespie, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was sitting directly behind the driver, was propelled forward and effectively “headbutted” the seat in front of him, leaving him unconscious.

He was rushed to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle with catastrophic injuries including a fractured skull but sadly died three days later.

Newcastle Crown CourtNewcastle Crown Court
Newcastle Crown Court

The court was told that the driver of the car Mitchell struck, Anthony Jackson, who was 64, also suffered a brain haemorrhage and a number of broken ribs and has since died of unrelated causes.

Mum-of-three Mitchell fled the scene but was later arrested and a sample of her blood recorded a reading of 240mg of alcohol per 100ml. The legal limit is 80mg.

It is believed she had drank around five to six pints of lager

The 33-year-old, of Roseneath Court, Ashington, pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

In an impact statement, Mr Gillespie’s mother Stephanie, also mum to Robert and Phillip’s twin Karl, said: “My life changed forever on the night of the 3rd of December when I received a phone call from a friend of Phillip’s saying he had been involved in a car accident.

“Phillip was my youngest son. Phillip was the quietest of the three boys.

“He never went out when he was younger, playing on the computer we had at the time playing FIFA and WWE wrestling. He would go everywhere with me including to the local shop.

“Everyone who met Philip loved him especially his eyes and his smile.

“When he and Karl were 18, he was asked if he wanted to do some demolition work out of the area. I was devastated as he was leaving me but I knew I couldn’t stop him.”

The heartbroken mum said she still spoke to her son most nights and that he made new friends who he regularly drank with.

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She added: “He went to work at 7am on the 3rd of December 2021 and never returned. He was in hospital from that night and declared dead on the 6th of December despite the doctors doing all they could for him and us as a family.

“My heart broke into a million pieces the day the doctor said those dreaded words. I couldn’t function, I didn’t eat for a while, I found myself constantly crying.

“I didn’t want to be at home because it was Phillip’s home. I sat in his room more often than I would sit in the living room or my own.

“I still sit and cry every day and night and still ask myself the same questions. Why was it my child? Why isn’t anyone else suffering like weare? No parent should ever have to bury their child.”

Judge Julie Clemitson sentenced Mitchell to six years and nine months. She was also disqualified from driving for eight years and four months.

The judge told her: “You remained at the pub for over three hours and during that time you continued to drink knowing you had brought your car to the pub in order to drive to Alnwick. I note in passing the distance there is between Blyth and Alnwick.”

The court also heard that upon leaving the pub, Mitchell’s friend asked if she was OK to drive but her concerns were ignored.

Judge Clemitson continued: “You were followed by another driver who felt it necessary to keep her distance having concerns you were a drink driver because of the nature of your erratic driving.

“Mr Jackson was driving his Octavia Skoda, his wife was in the front passenger seat. He pulled up behind other vehicles when you drove straight into the back of his car.

“You had travelled almost a mile from the pub and you passed several signs warning you of the temporary traffic lights.

“Your speed when you struck his car has not been exactly measured but estimates from the driver travelling behind you was 40-50mph. The speed limit was 30.

“It was immediate to everyone at the scene that Mr Gillespie had suffered a serious injury. He was unconscious inside the car.”

The court heard Mr Gillespie had not been wearing a seatbelt, but the judge told Mitchell it was her responsibility to ensure the safety of her passengers.

She also acknowledged she wasn’t displaying L plates and had no one in the vehicle who could supervise her given the amount of alcohol they had consumed.

In passing sentence, she added: “The harm caused by this offence is immeasurable, an incalculable loss and no sentence I can pass will ever be enough for all who continue to suffer that loss and no sentence can undo any of that pain.”

Richard Herrmann, defending, told the court Mitchell is a mother of three young children, and of previous good character. He provided the court with a number of references painting the defendant in a positive light.

Emotions ran high during the hearing and at its conclusion Mr Gillespie’s family yelled, “murderer”, and “scum” at Mitchell as she left the dock.