South Scotland

Melrose learner driver death motorist avoids jail term

Patricia Aitken
Image caption Patricia Aitken admitted driving carelessly and causing the death of Ms Harkness

A motorist who admitted driving carelessly and causing the death of a learner driver in the Borders has avoided a prison sentence.

Patricia Aitken, 55, was ordered to carry out 240 hours community service and given a five-year driving ban.

She had initially denied the charge, claiming a low calorie diet caused her to black out moments before the crash.

The collision killed Suzanne Harkness, 22, of Galashiels, who was on a driving lesson, and injured her instructor.

Aitken changed her plea to guilty after the Crown produced an expert report which dismissed the suggestion that the diet could have caused the loss of consciousness or fainting at the wheel.

Sheriff Donald Corke said he had seriously considered custody for the offence where "the circumstances had never been properly explained" and which had "devastating consequences".

Image caption Suzanne Harkness died in the crash on the A6091 near Melrose in the Borders in 2009

However, he decided to follow the recommendation in the background reports presented to Jedburgh Sheriff Court and impose the alternative to custody.

Aitken pleaded guilty to driving carelessly and causing her Volkswagen Passat to go onto the opposite carriageway of the A6091 road near her home in Melrose on 26 August 2009.

That resulted in her car colliding with a Citroen being driven by office worker Ms Harkness which killed her and seriously injured her driving instructor James Egan who was giving her a lesson.

Afterwards, relatives of Ms Harkness criticised the sentence and insisted Aitken should have been jailed for the offence.

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