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Unlicensed HGV driver jailed for eight years for killing cyclist while under the influence of cocaine

Robert Whiting's provisional licence expired in 2002 and the tipper truck driver tested positive for cocaine after he killed mum-of-two Dr Ling Felce in Oxford in March...

The uninsured and unlicensed driver of a 32-tonne tipper truck, who was under the influence of cocaine when he hit and killed a mum-of-two cycling at a notoriously dangerous roundabout in Oxford, has been jailed for eight years.

Robert Whiting pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving over the collision which killed University of Oxford academic Dr Ling Felce at The Plain roundabout in the city on 1 March this year.

The Plain, Oxford, before Cycle City Ambition works (licensed CC BY-SA 2.0 on Wikimedia Commons by ceridwen).jpg

The 40-year-old was found to be unlicensed, uninsured and tested positive for cocaine at the roadside. Later blood tests found Whiting was eight times over the limit for benzoylecgonine, a compound formed in the liver when cocaine is broken down.

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Sentencing him to eight years, the Oxford Mail reports Judge Michael Gledhill QC said Whiting had "snuffed out" Dr Felce's life "in a matter of seconds".

Court documents showed that on the day of the fatal collision Whiting was due before city magistrates for a number of allegations, including driving a car without insurance. Shortly after 2.30pm on March 1 the driver followed Dr Felce, who was riding her bicycle "perfectly properly", slowed to 5km/h at the approach to the junction, before accelerating to 20km/h when he hit the cyclist.

Dr Felce was killed "instantly", with Whiting telling a police officer he had not seen her and making calls to his father and employer, J&A Driveways, before trying to use the truck's mechanical arm to raise it off the ground and free the victim.

A passing member of the public was praised by the judge for "public spiritedness"  in trying to help and given £500 for her efforts from public funds.

Prosecuting, Christopher Hewertson said the defendant's provisional licence had expired in 2002, he was not insured to drive the vehicle and there was none of the required documentation in the vehicle.

Judge Gledhill also disqualified Whiting from driving for five years, with an extension period of four years to cover the minimum term he is expected to spend in jail, he must pass an extended retest if he wishes to drive again.

The judge said: "Dr Ling Felce was a young wife, mother of two young children, beloved daughter of her parents. Sister, profoundly affected by her death, as were many of her friends.

Dr Ling Felce (picture via Thames Valley Police)

"She was also a remarkable scientist, a research scientist working in fields such as biomedicine, vaccinology, researching into Covid vaccines and also oncology.

"So impressed were her colleagues at Oxford University and at no doubt many other institutions, that they are setting up an award in her name to promote other young scientists with her abilities.

"You have heard her husband read out his victim impact statement. That can only have moved everybody that has heard it as to the effects upon the family, himself, her children not only then and now but in the years to come.

"And you snuffed out her life in a matter of seconds."

James Felce, the victim's husband told the court: "Nothing will ever be enough to atone for what was taken from her. She was the best of us."

Speaking to Oxford Mail reporter Tom Seaward outside court, and showing remarkable composure, Mr Felce said: "What he (Whiting) has done is set. Nothing can change that. There's no reason for me to pursue more negativity on this. I don't hate him, I don't want him to live the rest of his life meaninglessly.

"If he can learn from this and become a better person, there's at least some positivity. It doesn't mean, necessarily, I'll forgive what happened, but it doesn't mean I want to pursue some agenda against him for the rest of his life. There's literally no point."

Also speaking outside court, police sergeant Dominic Mahon said: "I feel it's an appropriate sentence. It will send out quite a strong message. Mr Whiting chose that day to drive a 32-tonne vehicle which he was not licenced to drive. He'd never been trained to drive and the tragic result of that was the death of Dr Felce, a completely avoidable death and it's right the court today has recognised that with a significant sentence of eight years' imprisonment.

"Employers have a very serious responsibility, which is enforceable in law, to ensure that those they employ are licensed and supervised to drive the vehicles that they're using. There is an ongoing investigation into that aspect of the case so I cannot comment any further."

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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