Sentence delay for peer who texted before death crash

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The sentencing of a Labour life peer for dangerous driving after he admitted sending and receiving text messages on a motorway just before a fatal crash was sent to the Crown Court today.

Lord Ahmed, 51, appeared at Sheffield Magistrates' Court where he was due to be sentenced after earlier pleading guilty to driving dangerously on the M1 near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, last Christmas Day.

He admitted sending and receiving a series of five text messages while driving in the dark at speeds of more than 60mph along a 17-mile stretch of the motorway.

The court heard today that the peer's Jaguar hit an Audi car, which had stopped in the fast lane of the motorway, around two-and-a-half to three miles after the last text message.

Slovakian Martyn Gombar, 28, who was living in Leigh, Lancashire, died in the crash.

District Judge Mark Hadfield adjourned sentencing to 19 January at Sheffield Crown Court.

Lord Ahmed received three text messages and sent two while driving on the southbound carriageway of the M1, between junctions 40 and 35.

His elderly mother and his wife were passengers in the car at the time.

Some time after sending and receiving the text messages, he collided with the Audi, which was stationary in the fast lane of the motorway after crashing into the central reservation.

Steve Smith, Lord Ahmed's solicitor, told the court today that the peer was "rendered momentarily unconscious" by the impact of the crash and suffered a very serious head injury.

Lord Ahmed was never charged over the crash but admitted one charge of dangerous driving in connection with sending and receiving the text messages while driving.

Mr Smith told the court that nothing happened as a result of Lord Ahmed sending and receiving the text messages.

He said: "This man is not responsible for any accident. What he is responsible for is stupidity. I say that because it is a word he has used himself."

The solicitor said that, despite being told otherwise, his client still felt responsible for Mr Gombar's death.

"He still walks within that shadow and I think he always will," he said.

Mr Smith told the court of Lord Ahmed's role as a peer since he was appointed to the House of Lords in 1998.

Lord Ahmed, who has lived in Rotherham since childhood, has undertaken a number of high-profile roles, including negotiating with the president of Sudan a year ago to help secure the release of Liverpool teacher Gillian Gibbons.

Mr Smith said: "Here is a man who is accurately described as the voice of reason. He is a man whose work for all communities knows no bounds. His achievements for common sense and equality will stand the test of time."

The district judge said this was a case of "prolonged driving, which is clearly bad driving and dangerous driving" and told Lord Ahmed he drove "without regard to yourself, your passengers and other road users".

He said the aggravating features meant Lord Ahmed should be sentenced in the Crown Court.

Lord Ahmed was released on bail and an interim driving ban, imposed at an earlier hearing, was extended until he is sentenced next month.

Speaking outside the court after the hearing, Mr Smith said he was "disappointed" the case was not dealt with today.

"I, personally, am very disappointed. Lord Ahmed is not, his attitude is what will be will be," he said.

"Had it been anybody else, I don't think we would be in this situation."

Mr Smith said it had to be made clear that Mr Gombar's death was not Lord Ahmed's fault.

"It is not his responsibility and the world should know that because I still think this seems to be first and foremost in this case and that is never right," he said.

The solicitor said the case has had a "great effect" on Lord Ahmed's health and well-being.

He said: "But he's in very good spirits, he's a very sensible, very generous man, somebody for whom, I have to say, I have the greatest of respect."