June 6, 2022 2.37 pm This story is over 17 months old

BMW driver avoids jail for causing fatal crash after checking Instagram

The victim had just got engaged

A BMW driver who looked at an Instagram notification on his iPhone shortly before he caused the death of a newly engaged care assistant was today (Monday) spared an immediate jail sentence.

Ben Gibson, 28, admitted causing the death of Ellie Sanders, 20, by driving his BMW M2 carelessly two days after Christmas in 2019.

Ellie, who lived in Wittering, Cambs, had got engaged to be married just days before she died, when her partner Conor Munsey, from Bourne, proposed to her on her 20th birthday.

Lincoln Crown Court heard Gibson’s car had gone 23cms into the opposing lane when the three vehicle collision happened on the A6121 Lound Road near Toft.

Caroline Bradley, prosecuting, said although there was no evidence that Gibson had been using his phone at the time of the collision, he had been using it shortly before.

Technical data from Gibson’s BMW put the time of the collision at 17.51 and 34 seconds.

Miss Bradley told the court Gibson’s iPhone had received an Instagram notification 31 seconds earlier which he looked at after unlocking and swiping the device.

However the prosecution accepted Gibson’s iPhone was locked again and dimmed ten seconds before the collision.

The court heard Gibson was travelling south from his parents in Bourne around a sweeping right hand bend when he struck a glancing blow to a Nissan Juke being driven in the opposite direction by Leslie Sutton.

Miss Sutton’s car span 180 degrees into a ditch, while Gibson’s BMW lost control and collided head-on with Ellie Sanders’ Fiat Punto.

Ellie, who had been travelling behind Miss Sutton, suffered multiple injuries including a fatal brain injury, and died at the scene.

Miss Bradley told the court a number of Ellie’s family had made victim impact statements, including her mother, who described the knock on the door from the police and being unable to touch her daughter because of the police investigation.

The court heard Ellie’s death also occurred on the eve of her own father’s wedding which led to the cancellation of the ceremony.

Ellie was described as a “lively and caring” young woman who worked as a care assistant for Wright Care at Home in Stamford.

At the scene Gibson said he believed his BMW had been struck by another car. His works mobile phone was recovered from the BMW but he did not tell the police about his iPhone which was later obtained from his partner.

During police interview Gibson said he had no recollection of going over the centre white line or using his iPhone, but showed “overwhelming remorse” for Miss Sanders.

Will Martin, mitigating, said while Gibson accepted using his iPhone shortly before the collision, there was no evidence he was distracted by the device at the moment of impact.

The court heard Gibson, who had no previous convictions, suffered extensive injuries himself and was off work for two and half months.

Mr Martin argued any sentence of imprisonment could be suspended and offered an apology from Gibson.

“He apologises for his actions,” Mr Martin added. “What is clear is that Mr Gibson does not feel sorry for himself.

“He appreciates that whatever he suffers pales into insignificance.”

Passing sentence Judge Catarina Sjolin Knight said she was satisfied Gibson had unlocked, swiped and looked at the Instagram notification he received.

Judge Sjolin Knight told Gibson this was an “avoidable distraction”, which led to inattention.

However Judge Sjolin Knight made it clear Gibson was not still using his iPhone at the moment of the collision.

When combined with his “strong mitigation” and “otherwise blameless life”, Judge Sjolin Knight explained this meant Gibson could be dealt with by a suspended sentence.

Gibson, now of Barrowfield Drive, Stamford, but previously of North Road, Bourne, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving on December 27, 2019.

He was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for two years and must also complete 300 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Gibson must also obey an electronically monitored home curfew for six months between 9pm and 6am and pay £650 court costs.

He was also banned from driving for two years and must take an extended retest.