Northampton driver who killed cyclist after sending ‘trivial’ WhatsApp messages while at wheel is jailed

St Albans Crown Court
St Albans Crown Court

A Northampton man who sent and received a flurry of text messages while behind the wheel of his car before driving into a cyclist, with fatal consequences, has been given a 21-month prison sentence.

John Michell, a 26 year old accountant, was driving home along a dark and unlit road while using his mobile phone to compose three WhatsApp messages and read - at least once - two messages he’d received.

St Albans Crown Court heard the messages, sent and received in a period of two minutes and 21 seconds leading up to the collision, were with a woman he’d met online earlier who he’d never met in person.

The messages were described in court as “trivia”.

But it meant that because he was badly distracted and drove into the rear of 57 year old Mark Greenwood who was ahead of him and cycling home from work.

Mr Greenwood, a keen cyclist, had been wearing a high viz jacket and other motorists had been able to see him.

But after being struck by Mr Michell’s Volkswagen Golf, he was thrown from his bike and died from multiple traumatic injuries.

By complete coincidence, the court was told that although the two men didn’t know each other, they lived in the same apartment block in the village of Redbourn in Herts.

Today Mr Michell, who now lives in Whaddon Close, Northampton, pleaded guilty to a charge of causing death by dangerous driving on the evening of January 9, 2014.

Before Mr Michell was jailed, the partner of Mr Greenwood made an impassioned plea in the court for the driver not to be sent to prison.

Susan Ullman read a victim impact statement to the court in which she said despite what had happened, she still didn’t want Michell to be sent to prison, which she said would be another “life lost.”

The court heard Mr Greenwood had finished work that evening at a charity called Abbeyfield in St Albans, which provides support and care for the elderly and, at around 6pm, set off for the cycle ride to Redbourn along the A5183.

He had on his fluorescent bright cyclist anorak and a helmet, and work colleagues knew him to be conscious of road safety.

The court was told Mr Greenwood was seen by a number of motorists on the A5183 riding slowly and in a straight line near the kerb.

But also coming up behind the cyclist was Michell in his silver Golf and, because of the text messages he was sending and receiving, he failed to spot him.

The court was told that following the collision, Michell had moved to Northampton and given up his career in accountancy.

His barrister John Dye said he was genuinely remorseful and had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder because of what had happened that night.

Passing sentence, Judge Andrew Bright QC said: “I am satisfied the cause of the collision was that you were distracted by using your phone when driving.”

The judge said he had listened carefully to the pleas of Mr Greenwood’s partner, who had said she hoped the defendant wouldn’t go to prison.

But he said he also had a duty to the public and the message had to go out “loud and clear” that those who use mobile phones when driving could expect prison sentences if their actions resulted in the loss of life.

The judge said the use of mobile phones by people when driving was like an epidemic.

He jailed Michell for 21 months and disqualified him from driving for three years, telling him he must take an extended driving test before he gets back behind the wheel of a car again.