Maximum term for driver who killed five: Five-year sentence imposed for 'wicked driving' that shattered a community. Michael Prestage reports

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The Independent Online
A DISQUALIFIED driver was today starting a five-year jail sentence after being found guilty of causing the deaths of five young people when his car careered off a road on a Swindon estate and ploughed into a bench at high speed.

Imposing the maximum sentence for causing death by reckless driving, Judge Gabriel Hutton said Shaun Gooch, 25, had been convicted on the clearest possible evidence.

He said the only explanation of why Gooch was racing along Akers Way at speeds in excess of 80mph was to show off. 'The result was that the lethal instrument you had control of went completely out of your control and was propelled through the air, and the result of that was the loss of five innocent young lives.'

Public grief and outrage had been enormous, the judge said. 'There must be a severe penalty to punish you for the enormity of what you have done and also, one hopes, to deter other people from wicked driving of this sort. I can see no mitigation to the offences whatsoever.'

Gooch, of Penhill, Swindon, stood impassively in the dock while the sentence was read. His only show of emotion had been when a Salvation Army lieutenant, Andrew Wildman, with whom he has been working at a hostel in London since the accident last September, praised his integrity and loyalty.

Gloucester Crown Court was told that Gooch had a string of motoring convictions, including driving with excess alcohol and driving without insurance. As well as the five-year jail sentence, he was also sentenced to three months, to run consecutively, after pleading guilty to driving while disqualified, and was also banned from driving for 10 years.

Friends and relatives of the dead children were too upset to talk after the trial. But Inspector Pauline Tilley, of Wiltshire Police, who has counselled the families, said: 'A hundred years in prison wouldn't have been enough because it can't bring their children back.' She said there were no winners to emerge from yesterday's proceedings, with five lives lost, two young children seriously injured and a young man starting a long prison sentence.

The five who died as they sat on the bench alongside Akers Way were: Ian Lilley, 7; Sheree Lear, 8; Paula Barnes, 15; Paul Carr, 16; and Belinda Brown, 19.

Gooch's co-accused, Anthony Gallagher, 23, of Pinehurst, Swindon, was found not guilty of causing death by reckless driving, but was convicted of driving without due care and attention. He was fined pounds 300 and received six penalty points. During the 10-day trial, the court was told that Gallagher was moving out to pass a slow-moving car ahead of him when Gooch pulled out to overtake Gallagher. Gooch's car brushed against the side of Gallagher's and then went out of control, ploughing into the group on the bench. Gooch's Ford Escort was found upside down in a nearby garden. He was thrown clear and was not seriously injured. Since the crash, the speed limit on Akers Way has been cut from 40mph to 30mph and a memorial to the victims placed at the bench site.

(Photographs omitted)