Labour peer sent to prison for texting while driving
Messages sent by Lord Ahmed before fatal crash on M1 cost him the party whip
Thursday 26 February 2009
The life peer Lord Ahmed is to be expelled from the Labour Party after he was jailed for 12 weeks for sending and receiving text messages while driving on the motorway, minutes before he was involved in a fatal accident.
He sent three long messages and received and read two while driving on the M1 in Yorkshire on Christmas Day 2007. Minutes later Martyn Gombar, 28, from Slovakia, died when Lord Ahmed's Jaguar crashed into his Audi A4.
Lord Ahmed, 51, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving last year and was sentenced yesterday. He will serve half of his sentence, six weeks, in prison. The judge, Mr Justice Wilkie, said that the text messages had not contributed to the fatal collision.
Nonetheless Lord Ahmed has lost the whip as a result of his conviction and will be expelled from the party. However, he will keep his peerage and there will be nothing to stop him attending the Lords once he is released.
As his sentence was relatively short, his expulsion from the party could be reviewed. But there is no prospect of him being readmitted within three years. A Labour spokesman refused to comment on the case, saying only: "Under the party's rules any member who receives a custodial sentence is subject to automatic exclusion."
Sheffield Crown Court heard that Lord Ahmed had been driving in the dark at speeds above 60mph southbound between junctions 40 and 35. His elderly mother and his wife were in the car. Mr Justice Wilkie said the text messages Lord Ahmed exchanged with a journalist were substantial.
Two minutes after he sent the final message, Lord Ahmed collided with the Audi near junction 35. Its owner, Mr Gombar, had been drinking and had crashed the vehicle into the central reservation. The car had spun around and was stationary across the middle and outside lanes. Mr Gombar had left the car but was thought to be returning to retrieve his phone when the crash occurred.
Sentencing Lord Ahmed yesterday, the judge said: "After a full and thorough police investigation it is clear the dangerous driving had no causal link to the accident." But he added: "It is of the greatest importance that people realise what a serious offence dangerous driving of this type is. I have come to the conclusion that by reason of the prolonged, deliberate, repeated and highly dangerous driving for which you have pleaded guilty, only an immediate custodial sentence can be justified."
Lord Ahmed was also banned from driving for one year and ordered to pay £500 in costs. Outside court, Mr Gombar's family expressed dismay with the sentence. "We are not happy," said his cousin, David Cicak. "He could be out in six weeks. That's nothing." Speaking about Mr Gombar, he added: "He's left behind two small kids with only their mother."
But Lord Ahmed's solicitor, Steve Smith, said his client had been used as a scapegoat and he would appeal against the sentence. He added: "He's philosophical. He says 'If that's what the law says, that's what it must be.'"
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