Driver's sentence for deaths is doubled

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A drink-driver who knocked down two cyclists and left them to die had his prison sentence increased from two to four-and-a-half years yesterday by the Court of Appeal in London.

Derek Sylvester, 33, of Navenby, Lincolnshire, was jailed last April after admitting causing the deaths of Michael Wharmby, 17, and Carl Rutter, 21, by driving without due care and attention last September after drinking two pints of lager and five whiskies during a pub crawl. He drove two miles home, passing two telephone boxes, before raising the alarm. At first he told police that his wife had been driving.

Yesterday Lord Justice Rose said Sylvester's original sentence, by Judge Richard Benson at Lincoln Crown Court, was "unduly lenient". Bitterly criticised by the victims' parents, it had been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General. "The court is wholly unable to accept that the judge's comment about 'momentary carelessness' was an accurate description of the accident," Lord Justice Rose said.

"Aggravating features were the high degree of carelessness in failing to see the cyclists; driving away from the accident and the delay in calling the emergency services; and seeking to blame his wife."

Sylvester, who has previous convictions in 1988 for driving with excess alcohol and in 1991 for speeding, also had his driving ban extended from four to seven years.

At the original hearing the victims' families condemned the sentence. Michael Wharmby's father David, 50, said it was "ridiculously lenient".

"He went home leaving those kids on the road dying. He never even went to the nearest phone box. All he was concerned with was saving his own skin." Mr Wharmby claimed Sylvester had shown no remorse and warned more lives would be lost if judges did not use their powers.

The incident happened at about midnight at Coleby, on the A607 near Lincoln, when Sylvester ploughed into the back of the two cyclists. Both bikes had rear reflectors and lights and were visible for 80 yards. The bodies of Mr Rutter, of Navenby, and Mr Wharmby, of nearby Nocton, were found 40 yards beyond the first impact point. Sylvester admitted to police that he had been driving only when his wife denied she had been at the wheel.

Christopher Metcalfe, counsel for the defence, told the court that Sylvester's house, wife and children had all been attacked since the accident. Sylvester, who had had his ribs and his nose broken in prison, waived his right to attend yesterday's hearing.