Man jailed for driving offence after being on the run

A MAN who had been on the run for eight months after being charged with death by careless driving was found hiding naked under a bed. Peterborough Crown Court heard that Gavin Ritchie, 45, from Sawtry, had disappeared and was found eight months after the

A MAN who had been on the run for eight months after being charged with death by careless driving was found hiding naked under a bed.

Peterborough Crown Court heard that Gavin Ritchie, 45, from Sawtry, had disappeared and was found eight months after the crash, holed-up at his brother's home in Reading.

The court heard that Ritchie tried to escape immediately after the crash, which killed his young passenger, Michael Bradley, 22, from Eaton Socon.

Ritchie's car hit a kerb and careered across the carriageway on the B1043 in Stilton. The vehicle went into a ditch and up an embankment near the A1. Mr Bradley, was killed by one of nine fence posts that the car felled.

Ritchie, who escaped with a broken jaw, had been screaming to people who stopped to help to get him out of the car. Eventually he kicked his way out of the rear window of the car and a firefighter found him lying in the bushes 50 metres away.

The court heard that Ritchie, who reeked of alcohol, was staring at the sky saying: "How's my passenger, what have I done?" He did not respond when asked his name.

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He was given an appointment to report to the police a few days later, but then disappeared. That was on October 22, 2005. He was not found until June 3, 2006.

The court heard that it took from then until a week before last Wednesday's hearing for Ritchie to change his plea to guilty, sparing his victim's family the trauma of a trial. He admitted death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol. The court heard that he was found to be two and a half times over the limit - when tested over two hours after the accident. He also admitted driving without insurance.

On Wednesday, Judge Robert Blomfeld sentenced Ritchie to three and a half years in prison. Ritchie was disqualified from driving for two years and will have to re-take his driving test.

The court heard that Ritchie who had an estate agency and removal business, already had three speeding fines on his licence before the crash and had been in trouble with the police as a younger man. He had convictions up to 1991. Ritchie married in 1994 and had two children but in August 2005, his wife left him taking the children and tried to disappear from him. Ritchie hired a private detective to try to find her.

Andrew Howarth, speaking in mitigation for Ritchie said the defendant's business had "fallen into disarray". He had ended up without a job, home or family and it was against that background, he went out drinking in Peterborough with his friend, Michael Bradley on a Saturday night and then on to the Chicago nightclub. The crash was at 2am on the Sunday morning.

In statements read to the court, Michael Bradley's family described how his older brother, Paul, 31, had to break the news separately to both his mother and his father that their youngest child was dead.

His mother, Jean Hendy said: "Paul answered the door to the police officer. He had to contact me and then Michael's father. He is not the person I knew a year ago."

Mrs Hendy's statement said: "I don't talk about Michael's death. I can't put into writing how I feel or the affect it has had on his brother Paul and sister Sadie. I can see the impact it has had on them. I still have Michael's ashes at home. I can't make a decision as to what to do with them."

Mrs Hendy said the delay in the court proceedings had only compounded the family's suffering as did the fact that Ritchie had expressed no remorse or regret.

Michael's father, Robert Bradley, said he had set a date to give Michael a belated present for his recent 22nd birthday. "But that day never came."

He said: "When the phone call came from Paul, I was in shock. I actually hung up the phone. I rang back later to find out more details and I was told I had to go to Hinchingbrooke Hospital to identify my son."

Mr Bradley said he and Michael's mother and brother went to the hospital together. "It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Later I visited the accident scene to see the last place where Michael had been alive and I was in total amazement at the damage to the car. It had been travelling along a straight road, crossed the carriageway and hit nine wooden posts, mounted the embankment, gone down a ditch and up another embankment onto the A1."

Prosecuting, Hugh Vass told the court the car had been examined and no mechanical fault had been found. The road was clear, no other vehicle was involved and visibility was good. "The only cause of the crash was the manner of driving because of what the defendant had to drink."

Sentencing Ritchie, Judge Blomfeld told him: "This is a tragic case. It falls to me to sentence a man for the death of his friend. The death was the inevitable consequence of your totally irresponsible action of drinking so much alcohol that you were incapable of driving safely. I am mindful that you failed to attend the police appointment after the accident, that you went on the run and tried to avoid arrest by hiding under a bed. Your actions have added immeasurably to the distress of the family as has your not admitting your guilt until a week before the trial. Their suffering at times will be almost unbearable and no doubt for some of them will continue to grow until the day that each of them dies."

OUTSIDE the court, a friend of the family, Andrew Heeler, read out a statement."The day has finally arrived when we can see an end to a chapter. This day should have arrived a lot sooner but because of a certain individual's actions we have been left in limbo, hearing second hand his side, forever changing stories and a complete lack of compassion or remorse shown for this dreadful loss in our lives.

"Michael will never be forgotten, we will never stop loving him, missing him, feeling the empty void that never goes away.

"We see young men Michael's age and realise what he and we are missing and never going to have, a wife, children of his own and a future to plan and look forward to with his family around him.