A driver who caused the death of a 28-year-old man on the A34 at East Ilsley after crashing into his car while he was on the phone has been jailed.
Lewis Stratford, 24, of Field Avenue in Oxford, was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison at Reading Crown Court last Friday.
He had pleaded guilty to causing the death of Gavin Roberts, an Australian who was living in Swindon, following the crash on June 11 last year.
The court heard on Friday that Stratford had been driving southbound on the A34 to see his girlfriend, who he had been arguing with.
His girlfriend had said to him not to come down, warning him not to drive because of the emotional state he was in.
However he did, and he made a number of calls and sent texts to her over an extended period of time, and was on the phone to her at the time of the crash.
Stratford went through the central reservation onto the northbound carriageway, smashing into Mr Roberts’ BMW coming the other way.
Both were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and Mr Roberts died four days later from a severe head injury.
Prosecuting, Alan Blake said that in addition to being on his phone, Stratford was also going above the speed limit, although because of the damage to the car an accurate reading of his speed at the time couldn’t be provided.
In defence, Giles Newell said that Stratford was a man of previous good character, and that he is “wrapped with guilt and shame” over what happened.
Sentencing, Judge Stephen John said: “You deliberately engaged in the calls made to you and, more importantly, deliberately made the longer calls which led right up to the moment of this tragedy, while you were in a highly emotional and distracted state.
“You rightly accept that your heightened emotional condition, which not long before the collision involved you screaming down the phone at your girlfriend, was such that you should not have been behind the wheel at all.
“The simple fact is that this successful, popular and promising young man would be alive today if you had not behaved so irresponsibly. Only you are to blame.”
The sentencing came two days after stronger laws came into force over driving while using a phone, with those caught now facing a minimum of six penalty points and a £200 fine.
Following the sentencing, senior investigating officer Sgt Beth Walton said: “This case tragically evidences that distractions whilst driving do have and will continue to have catastrophic consequences.
“I would ask people to think about the consequences. If you speed, if you use your mobile phone whilst driving, then stop doing it and encourage those that you know who also do it to stop.
“Whilst this sentencing will never bring Gavin back, I hope it will allow his family and friends to have a sense of closure and enable them to continue through their grief at this difficult time.”
Family’s sorrow and heartache
Gavin Roberts’ family have paid tribute to a “great mate” and “the light of my life” following the sentencing of Lewis Stratford on Friday.
During the hearing Gavin’s dad Geoff and partner Meg Williamson read out tributes, alongside a statement from his mum Rose Joshua.
Ms Joshua’s statement, read out on her behalf, was described as “astonishing” by Judge Stephen John, after saying she forgave Stratford for what had happened.
Her statement read: “Gavin’s tragic death has caused his family and friends great sorrow and heartache.
“He had a big heart and great respect of mankind and I am certain he wouldn’t want to play the blame game and be bitter.
“Lewis Stratford, I want you to know that you have my forgiveness and compassion, and do not allow yourself to be destroyed by what happened.”
Gavin’s dad Geoff flew over from Australia for the sentencing, and spoke about how he had brought his son up and how difficult he had found life following the crash.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “The last time I saw my son was three months before he died when we spent three days in Dublin together.
“We had a good time, we always did. He was a great mate to me.
“Later in Australia we held Gavin’s funeral, and it was overwhelming how many people were there – people really liked him, and everyone wanted to pay their respects to him.
“He was a great guy, a delightful person, and I am very proud that he was my son.”
Gavin’s girlfriend Meg was also present in court, after having spoken with Stratford prior to the sentencing in a meeting broadcast on the BBC’s Inside Out programme.
She said in her tribute: “Gavin was the light of my life, he had an amazing ability to make everyone he met feel special.
“He loved to play squash, and I don’t think anyone will forget his karaoke performances.
“But life is different now. I miss Gavin every day, and will never forget that cheeky smile and geeky laugh.
“Goodnight my angel.”