A company director who killed two cyclists while driving home from work has walked free after being spared jail.
Clifford Rennie, 61, was driving from his office in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, when he hit cyclists Andy Coles, 56, and Damien Natale, 52, on the A40 between Studley Green and Piddington in Oxfordshire on 1 June last year.
Mr Coles, 56, was thrown over the crash barrier and down the hill, with his shattered bicycle found wedged in a tree.
Mr Natale, 52, was sent into the opposite carriageway and found more than 50m from where the crash happened.
They had been cycling behind one another close to the side of the road, and were killed instantly, Oxford Crown Court heard.
Rennie, from Wallingford, Oxfordshire, had pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by careless driving at High Wycombe Magistrates’ Court last month.
He was given a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years, banned from driving for five years and ordered to pay £475 in costs.
Rennie will also be required to take an extended driving retest when his disqualification concludes.
Another driver said they saw Rennie’s 2019 Volkswagen Golf swerve and hit the two cyclists on the crest of the hill.
He said Rennie, who stopped at the scene, had been holding his head in his hands and saying: “There’s two of them."
The evening had been sunny and, although overhanging trees had created patches of sunlight and shade on the road, a police crash investigator concluded that Rennie should have been able to see the cyclists.
The court was told that there had been a huge outpouring of grief for the victims of the crash, who had been keen cyclists and raised thousands of pounds for good causes.
In a statement to the court, Mr Coles’ partner, Helen Atherton, said 1 June 2020 was a date seared in her memory as “beyond tragedy, beyond awful, beyond anything I can imagine”.
She told the defendant: “I lost my world.”
Mr Natale’s son, Brady, told the court: “In that moment you didn’t look you took our family’s small bit of calm.
"You took our family’s stability, you took a loving husband, you took a dedicated father, you took a caring son, you took an excited grandfather.
"You don’t deserve for me to go through the pain of writing it, especially when your answer would be ‘no comment’."
Mr Natale’s wife, Tracey, said she felt like she was serving a “life sentence”.
Derek Coles said the evening of his brother Andy’s death had been “nothing short of horrendous”.
He said he the only comfort he had taken was from the knowledge his brother had died instantly.
“It seems terrible to feel such intense relief, but we were overjoyed that he hadn’t suffered,” he said.
"It is the only thing I have held on to, that he was not in pain or fear as far as we know.”
Rennie answered “No comment" to questions in his first police interview, the court heard.
In his second interview, he provided a prepared statement expressing his "heartfelt sympathy to the families of the cyclists”.
Rennie, who claimed he was a cyclist himself, could not explain why he had not seen the two men.
In a letter to the judge, the defendant repeated his apologies and “sorrow” for what had happened.
He said: “I sincerely hope that the justice that will be rightly served can offer some sort of closure to the families of Mr Coles and Mr Natale and they can begin to heal.”
Christopher Martin, defending Rennie, said his client was “haunted” by the fact he could not give his victims’ families answers about why he had not seen the two cyclists.
Rennie was an industrial chemical engineer and company director who had won a Queen’s Award for innovation.
Sentencing Rennie, Judge Michael Gledhill QC, told the victims’ families: “No words of mine are going to bring these men back.
“Nobody could be anything but deeply moved at hearing the impact and the effect of their loved ones’ deaths. The consequences for them, their families and friends of the deceased is truly appalling."
Sergeant Darren Brown, from Thames Valley Police's serious collision investigation unit, said: “This was an absolute tragedy that needn’t have happened.
“Due to the manner of Mr Rennie’s driving on that early summer’s afternoon last year, two men, who were simply out for a cycle ride, did not return home to their loved ones.
“Whatever the reason for Mr Rennie’s careless driving that evening, it is abundantly clear that neither Andy nor Damien contributed in any way to this incident.
“I know that no sentence would have served as any solace to Andy and Damien’s family and friends, but I would like to pay tribute to them all."
What are the sentencing guidelines for causing death by careless driving?
The maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving is five years in prison. Disqualification from driving is mandatory when convicted.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s Sentencing Council, there are three levels of seriousness applied to a case of causing death by careless driving.
The most serious is when the offender’s driving fell not that far short of dangerous. The least serious is when the level of culpability is low – it may relate to a case, for example, where the offender misjudges the speed of another vehicle or turns without seeing an oncoming vehicle because of restricted visibility.
The Sentencing Council states: “Where the level of carelessness is low and there are no aggravating factors, even the fact that death was caused is not sufficient to justify a prison sentence.”
Mitigating factors such as a good driving record, giving assistance at the scene and remorse are also taken into consideration when sentencing.
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