Judge calls case "utter tragedy" as pensioner who killed County Durham motorcyclist walks free from court

The Northern Echo: SPARED PRISON: Margaret Kirkbride leaves court with her solicitor SPARED PRISON: Margaret Kirkbride leaves court with her solicitor

AN elderly motorist who hit and killed a motorcyclist has been spared prison.

Eighty-five-year-old Margaret Kirkbride was driving back from setting up her church’s harvest festival when she pulled out into the path of oncoming motorcyclist, Ronald "Ronnie" Johnson.

The 41-year-old died from his injuries after the accident, which happened on the B1283 Seaside Lane, Easington, East Durham, on the evening of October 6.

Kirkbride, who was helped into the dock at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court today (Tuesday, May 20) by her son and solicitor, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and driving with a defective tyre.

There were cries of 'murderer' from the packed public gallery as District Judge Kristina Harrison sentenced her to a community order with an 18-week curfew from 6pm to 6am and a £60 victim surcharge.

She was also banned from driving for two years and must retake her test if she wants to drive again.

Judge Harrison said: “What can I say about this case? It is an utter tragedy, particularly for the victim’s family.

“There is nothing I can do, or this court can do, that will make up for the loss of Ronald on that particular evening, it just can’t.”

The court heard Mr Johnson – a father-of-two from Easington Colliery - was an experienced motorcyclist and had been riding since the age of 17.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Johnson’s brother Alan, who was riding behind when the collision happened, said his family were disgusted with the sentence.

He said: “It is a disgrace. Shoplifters at Asda get more.”

Lesley Kirkup, prosecuting, told the court Kirkbride, of Burnside, Peterlee, had seen the headlights of Mr Johnson’s Suzuki GSXR 600 motorcycle, but had misjudged how close he was to her Nissan Micra when she began to turn right.

Both vehicles were travelling below the 30mph speed limit at the time of the collision, which happened at around 7.45pm.

In mitigation, Yvonne Taylor said Kirkbride, the full-time carer for her 87-year-old husband, had been driving for 44 years and had no previous convictions.

She also said that although she has a degenerative eye condition, it was being closely monitored and her consultant said she was fine to drive.

Mr Johnson’s twin sister, Eileen, paid tribute to her brother during the hearing, but said she feared his seven-year-old son, Jack, may one day forget the memories of his father.

She said: “Jack really did think his dad was a hero.”

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